By Nick Anstett
Elm Staff Writer
There was talk around the end of the last decade about Will Smith being the last true movie star. His ability to sell seemingly unmarketable films coupled with his magnetic charisma and personality made him a public and even critical darling. That has more or less evaporated over the last five years or so. With his last two high profile releases being the dismal “After Earth” and “Winter’s Tale,” it may be that Smith’s days of Hollywood gold are behind him. “Focus” aims to end that.
Nicky (Will Smith) is a con man and a thief. He makes his living off the subtle manipulation of unwitting victims for profit, sometimes in the millions. He’s an amateur of his craft. That is, until he meets a young rookie to the business, the beautiful and naturally talented Jess (Margot Robbie). As Nicky shows Jess the ins and outs of the business, the two of them quickly develop a chemistry that may lead to their biggest pay out ever or their collective downfall.
There’s a slickness to watching “Focus.” It looks gorgeous with directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa along with cinematographer Xavier Grobet creating an exciting and visually arresting look for the film. There’s a lushness to the atmosphere in “Focus” that is almost entrancing. It helps that much of “Focus” takes place in creatively lit night clubs and neon urban sprawls. It gives “Focus” a unique color palette that adds flair to its games of mental trickery. Regardless of how bland the events of the film may become, it’s hard to find oneself tuning out.
It also doesn’t hurt that “Focus” has employed two genuinely attractive and charismatic actors to be its leads. Smith and Robbie are clearly enjoying themselves, and the results show. Robbie and Smith have a palpable on screen chemistry and watching the two interact with one another is the movie’s true highlight. It’s also a detriment in that the scenes where Robbie and Smith are separated drag and lack inspiration.
“Focus’” con-game subject matter entertains in fits and spurts. On a surface level, watching the game of slight of hand and subterfuge plays out is fun. Again, much of this comes from just how enthralling the leads pulling the strings can be. However, as the cons grow long and the curtain is pulled off, the results ring stale and, after one particularly outlandish example of subconscious manipulation, laughable. For as intelligent as “Focus” likes to believe it’s being, there’s simply not a lot going on underneath its flashy exterior. There’s nothing here that we have not seen in much more successful and even artful films such as “American Hustle.”
However, perhaps most damningly, “Focus” lacks tension. Nicky, Jess, and their cohorts are so talented at their profession that even in moments of seeming danger, “Focus” has a tendency to pull the rug out from under its own feet to reveal that there was truly nothing wrong at all. It pulls this trick so often that it’s acts of trickery grow stale.
“Focus” is quintessential matinee or rainy Saturday DVD rental entertainment. It’s bland and forgettable, but enough of it works to fend off true feelings of frustration or anger. At the very least you get to see pretty people have fun in a slick looking pseudo-thriller. Just don’t expect to be fooled by it as easily as the poor saps in the script.