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Remember when Will Smith was box office gold? There was a time — nearly 20 years ago — when he couldn’t miss. Even if his movie was a dud, it still went cha-ching at the box office. Then Hancock (2008) happened and he hasn’t done anything decent since, and given the mediocrity of Focus, expect the downward trend to continue.
Sure, Smith brings his trademark charm to Nicky, a con artist. And the gorgeous Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) brings beauty to Jess, an aspiring grifter whom Nicky takes under his wing. There’s no debating they’re both easy on the eyes. Nicky calls grifting “a game of focus” that’s all about getting peoples’ attention and deceptively taking what you want. No doubt this deception is meant to be a metaphor for the film as well, thereby prompting writers/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love.) to pull the old switcheroo on the audience in the final moments. The problem is the story lacks so much focus leading up to the finale that when the twist comes, we don’t care because we’ve already lost interest.
The flow is disjointed throughout. Nicky and Jess meet in New York, and in the film’s lone compelling sequence, he shows her the tricks of the trade regarding pickpockets and other small time hoodlumisms. More insights into their illegal business would’ve been welcome, as it’s fascinating for law-abiding citizens to discover how criminals earn their living (this is one of the appeals of Goodfellas, for example).
Too quickly, though, the scene shifts to New Orleans. It turns out Nicky has a whole team of vandals, including his right-hand man Horst (Brennan Brown) and the loyal-to-a-fault Farhad (Adrian Martinez). Because we need to like Nicky, everyone on the team gets an equal share from all the capers, which makes Nicky look like a “fair” con man, oxymoronic as that sounds. Jess joins the team and, after yet another endless and languid conversation with Nicky, they sleep together.
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