Will Smith is supercool scammer in international con caper
Starring Will Smith & Margot Robbie
Directed by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
In Hollywood, everyone loves a con man. From The Sting to American Hustle, movies about charismatic con artists, scamp-ish scammers and fun-loving flimflammers have been parting moviegoers from their money for decades.
Will Smith, once one of the most bankable movie stars on the planet, takes on the genre with Focus, a sleek and stylish caper flick that combines the con with comedy and romance. In Hollywood shorthand, they call that a rom-con.
Smith plays Nicky, a smooth, charming career criminal in charge of a hipster crew of pickpockets, thieves and other masters at separating unsuspecting schmoes from their credit cards, wallets, watches, jewelry and other valuables. In the opening scene, he turns the tables on the beautiful Jess (Margot Robbie), a small(er)-time hustler who quickly becomes his partner and his protégé—and, soon enough, his lover.
Nicky and Jess swap life stories, hop in and out of the sack and embark on a stealing spree in New Orleans over Super Bowl weekend that nets over $1 million in swiped goods. But the movie doesn’t really catch fire until fully 45 minutes in, when they encounter a high-rolling businessman (B.D. Wong) at the big game who entices Nicky into a round of ridiculously high-stakes gambling. The drama builds to the tune of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” which, we later find out, is something quite more than just a song on the soundtrack.
But in this movie, with everyone on the take and on the make, and some kind of sleight of hand in practically every scene, nothing is quite what it seems—and you can’t really trust anyone…or can you? This is especially true in the second half of the movie, when the story jumps ahead three years and across the globe, and all the characters end up in a completely different scenario, in different “roles.”
Gerald McCraney comes onto the scene (and possibly onto Nicky); Brazilian movie superstar Rodrigo Santoro plays a suave Formula 1 racing stud; and Adrian Martinez, who’s been in some 80 moves and TV shows as a supporting player, provides a lot of levity—and much of the reason for the movie’s R rating—as Nicky’s loyal sidekick.
Focus keeps you guessing. And it’s gorgeous to look at with two beautiful co-stars, often bathed in sensuous, sexy close-ups. Robbie, who made such a splash in The Wolf of Wall Street, makes a particularly strong impression in this constantly evolving cat-and-mouse game. The on-location shots, especially when the action shifts to Buenos Aires, are golden, sunbaked vistas that will chase away even the deepest winter blues. The director-writer team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Bad Santa; I Love You, Phillip Morris; and Crazy, Stupid Love) know how to keep things lively, luscious and lovely.
The dialogue can be dumb and clunky, the action isn’t quite as crisp as it could be, the danger never quite sharpens to a knife’s edge of worry about anyone, and some of the extremely complicated scheming requires some big, big stretching to swallow. But Focus has so much eye-candy razzle-dazzle, and it all looks so fabulous, it makes you forget about many of those pesky things, lost in its cool, groovy vibes and its long-con gamesmanship, and—hey, just a minute: Where’s my wallet?!!
—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine