Focus Pocus: Will Smith Does His Thing in Harmless, Focusless Con Film

Movie Review


Doesn’t it feel like we’ve been seeing Focus trailers for the past year and a half? And is it just me, or does it feel like the trailers never adequately expounded on what the movie was?

We learned it starred Will Smith as a legendary con man and Margot Robbie as a scintillating femme fatale, but I mean...what is it? Is it a dramatic thriller? Is it a spy caper? Is it a comedy?

If you overcome your confusion and see Focus this weekend — it opens this evening at theaters everywhere — you’ll discover that the question remains up for debate. Focus exemplifies the the jack-of-all-genres-master-of-none school of filmmaking.

Smith is Nicky. He and the amateur con artist Jess (Wolf of Wall Street's Robbie) meet-cute one wintry evening, and Nicky gives her a few pointers in the fine art of pick-pocketing. It's all about stealing victims' focus, Nicky insists. "When your eyes are here," he says, "my hand is here," (Her vagina?) She’s so inspired that she follows him to New Orleans for a week of small-time criminal activity before and during the Super Bowl. Then they glumly part ways.

Three years later, in a brand new story line, they meet in Argentina where Nicky has been contracted by a wealthy race car enthusiast (Rodrigo Santoro) and his adviser (Gerald McRaney, Raymond Tusk on Netflix's House of Cards) to sabotage rival driving teams.

Jess, who’s no longer in the game, thwarts Nicky’s con — she makes him lose focus, as the script duly emphasizes — because, go figure: he realizes he has feelings for her.

Like all con-artist films, this one has its share of implausible plot twists and surprises, some of which are satisfying, but many of which are not. Though the chemistry between Smith and Robbie often hits the mark, as do a few one-liners from Adrian Martinez as a burly sidekick, the film ultimately feels like a joke that’s a lot less funny because it has to be explained. The film encourages us not to take anything at face value — it all might be a lie — which discourages emotional investment in just about everything.   

The good news is, though it’s not exceptional, it’s not terrible either. It's totally harmless and thus should appeal to a broad enough base to be an agreeable option for a date night.      

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