Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Language, some Sexual Content and brief Violence
Directed by: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Written by: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, B.D. Wong, Rodrigo Santoro, Robert Taylor & Gerald McRaney
The marketing for FOCUS made the film out to be a disaster. First, there was definite confusion over exactly what genre this film fit in. Is it a romance? A comedy? A crime caper? All of the above? Then there was a lack of a clear plot evident in a trailer as well as Will Smith starring in a role that seemed to allow him to be over-the-top one-liner spewing Smith that we already know far too well. I don’t know what film the trailers for FOCUS were advertising, because the movie I sat through was far better than it originally looked. FOCUS is a throwaway crime-romance, but it also happens to be fairly enjoyable while it lasts.
Nicky Spurgeon, a professional con artist, meets Jess Barrett, an amateur thief, at a bar one night. After hitting it off through her failed attempt at stealing from him, Nicky takes Jess under his wing to show her the ropes of how to properly con someone. It is the dawn of the Superbowl, which ensures lots of potential suckers will be together in one place to prey on. Nicky, Jess, and the rest of his crew plan on pulling off some big cons, which might blow up in their faces. What I’ve described could have been the entire plot of the film, but it only serves as the premise for the first half. The second half radically shifts into a different storyline with the same characters in Argentina. While the film is entertaining, this unfocused narrative is one of the main problems I have with FOCUS.
The script revolves around a group of con artists and their expensive exploits, but there is a clear romantic angle front and center. This is actually where FOCUS gets most of its strength. Will Smith and Margot Robbie have great chemistry together that comes across in their characters. Though he’s become known for playing over-the-top action heroes, Nicky is actually Smith’s best role in years. He’s an anti-hero, but also has enough good qualities surrounding him that you can’t help but root for him. Meanwhile, Jess is just as compelling and Margot Robbie brings her to convincing life. She can be naïve and foolish, but I loved the character of Jess as well. In the big bad department, this criminal couple get mixed up with a variety of dangerous people including an eccentric Chinese gambler, a wealthy billionaire (played especially well by Rodrigo Santoro), and said billionaire’s paranoid body-guard. All three of these antagonists are enjoyable in their screen time, but don’t necessarily take up as much of the film as they probably should have.
The biggest problem with FOCUS is the dual narrative that’s split right down the middle of the running time. This feels like two scripts got shoved into one movie and while neither of those scripts is necessarily bad, they don’t flow well together with only a “Three years later…” tag connecting them. FOCUS’s screenplay doesn’t only suffer from lack of a steady storytelling pace, but also from a couple of far-fetched moments that bring significant plot holes. Characters try to explain these logic gaps to the audience with weak excuses, but I wasn’t buying them. There’s one twist too many by the conclusion that had me rolling my eyes.
A definite style and confidence is present though. The crime scenes are well executed with huge laughs in how elaborate the cons are. FOCUS felt like it was in the same vein as OCEAN’S ELEVEN and I could definitely see that target audience eating this film right up. The glossy cinematography looks beautiful, including one early scene in snow-covered streets and the latter half set in gorgeous Buenos Aires. The soundtrack works half of the time (with a certain Rolling Stones song used to great effect) and going into downright distracting territory during other moments.
FOCUS is a decent crime-romance that suffers from narrative problems and a couple of plot holes. The film’s overall style and chemistry between the leads save it from being mediocre. There are many scenes that do work in this film and I can’t say that I was ever mad or bored at any point (even though there is a pretty dumb twist in the final 10 minutes). For fans of crime capers or those looking for a good date movie, FOCUS should work just fine.