2015 / Director. Glenn Ficarra & John Requa.
Review by Shaun Crawford.
Will Smith's film career is somewhat of an oddity. As one of the world's most recognisable stars, he's been on our screens for the better part of 30 years but never in that time has he been in a truly great film. He's come close once (Michael Mann's 'Ali') or twice (Tony Scott's 'Enemy of The State') but his efforts have hovered in limbo between downright rubbish ('After Earth') to banal mediocrity ('Seven Pounds').
His latest, 'FOCUS' thankfully falls to the latter but that's damning it with faint praise. In it he stars as suave con-master Nicky Spurgeon, head of a team of 30 tricksters who reap a living on the short-con; pickpockets and hustlers, primarily. Into this clandestine world steps sassy Jess (Margot Robbie), a slinky tease and wannabe who convinces Nicky to take her under his wing as an apprentice grifter.
It's hard to give away too much more without spoilers but the remaining 90 minutes twists and turns and convolutes into some that vaguely resembles a narrative.
Con-artist films are a tricky sell for the audience. The problem with them lies in the protagonists motivations; they have to be doing it for the right reasons otherwise they're just, well, criminals stealing from average hard-working Joes for the sake of being greedy - and greed is a hard motivator to get behind.
This, unfortunately, is one of the biggest problems with FOCUS. Sure, everyone is knee-bucklingly good looking, New Orleans looks like a million bucks and is refreshingly free of French Quarter gothic cliches but for all its shiny sheen, Nicky and Jess are, ultimately, just greedy cons operating in a sterile, shiny version of THE BIG EASY.
The other problem lies with the lack of danger. Even when the stakes MIGHT be high it's hard to feel your pulse race when they (and we, the audience) are, in all likelihood, being played, and we know it. For a large chunk of the running-time there's no real threat other than they might not get all of the wallets in the room - Ho-hum.
There is, however, an undeniable chemistry between the leads. Smith and Robbie, while no Clooney and Lopez, do draw the high-card in the romance stakes. It's here that Focus gets lively. The cons we've all seen before, but when the film ... erm ... Focuses ... on it's leads we're given the only memorable beats of the narrative. Smith cranks up the famous charm to 11 and Robbie, to her credit, matches him.
When all is said and done we're left with a film as shallow as the cover-stories the character give each other and a candy-coloured, pop-art version of an otherwise incredibly interesting city.
Watch Mamet's 'House of Games' instead.