Will Smith hasn’t been very busy lately. He’s been quiet since 2008 basically, with a brief reemergence to make Men In Black 3 and the critical failure that was After Earth. It looks like he’s ready to get back into the game, and Focus appears to be the first step. Starring alongside Margot Robbie, he plays a veteran con-man named Nicky who meets Jess, a young woman eager to get into the game, but then decides there’s no room for love in his life and moves on. Years later they cross paths during a con, and of course things get complicated. It’s a decent concept, and certainly has the star power, but the real question is, will audiences feel conned when they leave the theater?
Maybe. Focus is a hard movie to get a feel for. The draw is clear, with one of the most famous Hollywood stars of the last 20 years, in Will Smith and one of the most talented young actresses out there in Margot Robbie, who happens to be incredibly beautiful and just came off a break out role in The Wolf of Wall Street. Co-Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa had a couple big stars, and for the most part both of them are able to deliver. Smith looked to be in stylish good form, managing to add his usual charm and make a pretty likable criminal. Same goes for Robbie, who is of course flaunted around in small dresses and bikini’s for a lot of the film, but does manage to show off her acting chops as well. She’s definitely got talent, and could probably do a lot with a less glamorous role too, but for now it’s certain that she’ll be in a lot of these types of movies. While the film’s stars deliver, unfortunately in terms of supporting cast, Focus get’s it wrong in almost every case. Will’s friends get very limited screen time and basically do nothing with it. Then there’s Adrian Martinez, as Nicky’s friend Farhad, who is supposed to be the film’s comic relief, but literally made me laugh ZERO times. It’s hard to believe that a film could get it so wrong here, and some of the films least credible scenes are where Margot Robbie is gallantly trying to laugh at the characters jokes.
The film also lacks a real, credible villain or threat to our characters. Rodrigo Santoro plays a pretty weak villain, and I use the term loosely, and Gerald McRaney puts forth a horrible attempt at his tough guy. Like a teddy bear version of Mike from Breaking Bad. Without any credible or threatening villains, it is difficult to really feel any connection to the stakes of the film, and this is something that is basically unforgivable in a film like this. That being said, there are some genuinely fantastic moments in Focus that salvage it at times. Some of the heist scenes are creative and pretty fun to watch. Some of Smith and Robbie’s interactions are strong and entertaining. Their chemistry has been questioned, but I didn’t feel that way. I felt that the problem was more with the lack of development in the script, so their relationship seems rushed and unrealistic. But that wasn’t to say that they didn’t deliver in the scenes they did have.
The best moments in Focus are the ones where we feel some real tension, and then they flip the script on us with a nice twist. The highlight is a particularly tense scene involving Nicky making some irresponsible bets with the earnings from a huge score, and the scene is played out really well to the point where you feel some genuine dread. The same can be said for some other key sequences, and it seemed like the film makers had the ability to craft a really good scene at times, but weren’t able to connect them with meaningful writing and character development to put forth a complete picture. The constant changes in tone didn’t help here either, and sometimes it seemed like the movie couldn’t decide what type of film it wants to be.
While the script is pretty weak at times in it’s details, there are certainly enough creative twists and turns in the overall story to keep you surprised and engaged. I found myself getting bored during some of the poorly executed filler, but genuinely engaged during some of the pivotal moments. That’s not the worst thing in the world, and with two charismatic stars, it makes for an average, but definitely watchable little film that I want to root for, even if I don’t believe it deserves all of my support.