PLOT: A slick con artist takes on a beautiful protege whom he tries desperately not to fall in love with.
REVIEW: After what feels like a very long time outside of the A-list, Will Smith makes a comeback bid in FOCUS, a slick, mostly enjoyable caper picture which sees the former Fresh Prince play a cool-as-ice con artist who's always on the hustle. Smith proves that he's still got "it," without a doubt; his screen presence is effortless and he still convinces you he's the kind of guy who could sell sand in the desert. But Smith still finds himself with a problem here, and the problem is named Margot Robbie, who blows him - and everyone else - off the screen.
Robbie is as dynamic a newcomer I can remember seeing in movies in quite a while. It's not just that she's gorgeous, although she's certainly that (and then some). As she displayed in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET, Robbie is the real deal, a magnetic vision impossible to look away from. It's one thing to be really pretty, but it's another thing to exude charisma, radiate sensuality and actually nail every scene; she genuinely seems to enjoy acting. Robbie's the next big thing, and FOCUS is like a springboard strictly devoted to her.
Smith plays a character named Nicky, a lifelong con man who's part of an unfathomably complex network of thieves. One night, purely by chance, he gets mixed up with Jess (Robbie), an amateur swindler good at picking wallets but not much else. Jess wants Nicky to teach her the ways of trade and, grudgingly (but not too grudgingly because holy god look at her), Nicky agrees. With a dozen or so cohorts, they make millions in New Orleans over Super Bowl weekend while also falling in love. But Nicky has a rule: don't let emotion get in the way of business. He abruptly dumps Jess and heads for the hills.
Three years later, fate would have it that they meet again. (There are a lot of coincidences in this plot.) This time they're both separately trying to scheme a flashy Spanish race car mogul (Rodrigo Santoro), who is shadowed by an intimidating bodyguard/father figure (Gerald McRaney). The reunited couple circle each other warily, fighting off temptation because they know it could sink them both if they're found out. They don't succeed.
Smith and Robbie make a good pair in the film, directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE), and there's no doubt they're really the only reasons to see it. The plot, such as it is, is both overly-complicated and undercooked, feeling more like a string of episodes in this couple's topsy-turvy romance than an actual narrative to invest in. Caper movies about con artists always have fun pulling the rug out from everyone with clever twists and double-crosses (think THE STING or OCEAN'S ELEVEN), but FOCUS doesn't really have the goods in that department; we don't especially care about who's cheating who or why. The third act, when all the chips are finally laid on the table, doesn't wow us, none of the big revelations very consequential. We're just here to watch your two fabulous movie stars as they strut and swagger all over the screen, and maybe that's just enough.
Smith and Robbie are joined by two additional excellent performers. McRaney is a stand-out as a take-no-shit type who doesn't trust Smith's character from the get-go; their exchanges have an electric nastiness to them. And B.D. Wong has a fantastic turn as a flamboyant gambler; he's only in one sequence but it's a knock-out, perhaps the best in the film. Santoro is okay, but frankly not very intimidating; the film could use a greater threat.
But, again, this is Ms. Robbie's show. As much as a thief as her wily character, she steals every single scene she's in, and if FOCUS is a bit lacking in the ingenuity department, it's smart enough to have Robbie as the ace up its sleeve.
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