Focus (2015) / Thriller-Comedy

MPAA Rated: R for language, some sexual content and brief violence
Running Time: 104 min.

Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, Gerald McRaney, Adrian Martinez, B.D. Wong
Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Screenplay: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

Review published February 27, 2015

Will Smith (Winter's Tale, After Earth) plays a big-time conman named Nicky, who ends up taking on a naive but studious protégé named Jess (Robbie, The Wolf of Wall Street), with whom he soon enters into a love affair.  However, the relationship has multiple levels, one of which includes Nicky following his stern conman father's advice to never let love get in the way of work in the con game.  The two part ways, but find themselves meeting again when Nicky is on another big con in Argentina, but this time, the complicated relationship goes up a tick when she announce that his mark is her fiancée. 

The main problem with Focus is its terrible screenplay, written by the co-directors, Ficarra and Requa (Crazy Stupid Love, I Love You Phillip Morris).  It's all a bit jokey, but the way they shoot the film isn't exactly playing for broad and obvious laughs, leaving the tone uneven, especially in the film's moments that require a bit of tension to pull off.  The film's sleek cinematography and punchy music will have you recall the slick conmen films of the last 20 years, especially another crime-comedy in Ocean's Eleven, but the cons here are either too easy for us to foretell what's about to go down, or too far-fetched to believe, even when Nicky takes the time to explain exactly how they were pulled off.

My favorite aspect of the movie is Margot Robbie, who has already shown she can be a phenomenal actress in her star-making turn in The Wolf of Wall Street.  The Australian actress continues a variation on that American accent here, but still does it about as convincing as can be.  But beyond her looks, Robbie truly sells the underlying emotional investment of her character with Nicky, which is critically important, especially as Smith is playing him to be a somewhat jaded and stoic professional who has spent too many years hiding his true nature to everyone.

As far as the romantic chemistry between Smith and Robbie, it's not smoldering, but it works well enough for the purpose of the movie, even if their characterizations don't run particularly deep.  Still, you have two very capable thespians front and center most of the time, and the best moments of the film do come from the comical and emotionally complex interplay they both bring to it.  It should be fun to see them reteam again in their upcoming DC Comics Suicide Squad flick.

Focus is never un-watchable, but it is occasionally too obvious or poorly developed to truly hold together as a smart, clever con plotline.  Watch it for the performances and for the glossy bells and whistles, but you'll have a much better time if you don't focus on Focus's shoddy scripting choices.

Qwipster's rating:

©2015 Vince Leo