I can’t say I have always shared the general enthusiasm for Will Smith’s movies or his performances. It’s not that he is a bad actor. But, with a few exceptions, he often seems to play variations of the same type of guy. That is certainly not a problem for his fans who have made him a bonafide box office draw, but as someone who doesn’t always care for ‘that guy’ he plays, it can be a turn off.
Smith’s time on the big screen hasn’t been as prominent as during his heyday. He had at least one film (sometimes more) come out every year between 1995 and 2008. “Focus” ushers in a bit of a return to the starring spotlight and once again he is playing a variation of the same type of guy. He’s cool, stylish, cocky, and a bit of a wise guy. Sound familiar? Here he plays a dapper professional con-man with a seemingly endless amount of resources at his disposal. But more on that later.
The story begins with Smith’s character, Nicky Spurgeon, being seduced and conned by a novice scammer named Jess (Margot Robbie). Nicky isn’t fooled and he sees through her amateurish scheme. A few days later Jess approaches Nicky in dire straits begging to be his protegé. Nicky agrees and tests out her sticky fingers on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Impressed by her success Nicky invites Jess to join his crew. A few good scores and a painfully predictable romance follows.
Nicky’s dad always taught him that business and pleasure don’t mix, so he drops Jess after realizing he was falling for her. But obviously the story doesn’t stop there and the two meet again three years later in Buenos Aires. Is it a chance meeting or doesn’t Jess have something up her sleeve? A web of twists, turns, deceptions, billionaires, parties, and race cars make up the second half of the story.
There are times when “Focus” could be called a fashion extravaganza masquerading as a con-artist movie. Some scenes serve only as opportunities for the two stars to show off their good looks, nice physiques, and chic attire. This works well with the aforementioned typical Will Smith character. We get a lot of that here. It’s interesting that the film’s best scene features Smith casting aside that persona and showing us a vulnerable and intensely human side of his character. I won’t build it up but you will know it when you see it.
Ultimately “Focus” is a movie stymied by its amoral vanity, its overload of mediocre twists and turns, and the lukewarm chemistry between Smith and Robbie. If you view it through a very simple and straightforward lens you’ll notice a few fun moments. But it is never as cool or crafty as it tries to be and designer sunglasses, swanky sports jackets, and posh gowns only carry things so far. And even the movie’s title makes you wonder if you are the one being conned because there isn’t a lot of focus here.
VERDICT – 2 STARS