DIRECTED BY Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
STARS Will Smith, Margot Robbie
We all know that Will Smith has effortless charisma to burn and acting ability to flex, so let’s focus on Margot Robbie, Smith’s co-star in the new film Focus. Robbie made a splash as Leonardo DiCaprio’s wife in The Wolf of Wall Street, but given the excesses of that picture, it was hard to completely gauge her talent behind all that glitz.
In Focus, she’s still playing a character that’s only half-developed, but here she’s allowed opportunities to demonstrate that she’s in possession of adequate comic chops. Clearly, she’s more than just another pretty face.
With Smith and Robbie at the top of the ticket, we’re guaranteed a movie that’s easy on the eyes, even if its inconsistencies render it occasionally taxing on the brain. This is another in the long line of tricky, sleight-of-hand yarns in which everyone is deceiving everyone else at all times, but based on the results of 2013’s Now You See Me and this picture, it’s obvious that Hollywood’s hustlers have lost their sting since the days of Paul Newman.
Smith is Nicky, a seasoned con artist who agrees to let a novice named Jess (Robbie) join his team. For none-too-believable reasons, Nicky eventually parts ways with Jess, only to bump into her again three years later in Buenos Aires. He’s in the Argentinian capital to set up a scam at the behest of a race-car owner (Rodrigo Santoro), and he spots her when … well, let’s not reveal too much.
There’s one sharply staged sequence involving a series of bets placed on a football game – BD Wong is memorable as this segment’s linchpin – but the rest of this draggy film offers nothing but surface sheen, with the supposedly riveting twists taking a back seat – make that a spot in the trunk – to the spectacle of watching two gorgeous people hungrily eye each other while engaging in flirtatious banter against luxurious backdrops.
Unfortunately, that dialogue, like most of the yakking in this movie, is on the weak side, with only Gerald McRaney (as a grouchy bodyguard) accorded a few choice cracks. And as film fans know, yarns of this nature, from The Grifters to House of Games, live and die by the beautiful turn of phrase. Even David Mamet’s Heist, one of the lesser entries in this field, knew enough to stack the deck with quips like, “I’m as quiet as an ant pissing on cotton.”
In Focus, what passes for profane poetry? “You hittin’ that? You should be hittin’ that.” Clearly, the con is on audience members expecting more for their money.