– by Tom Munday
Actor/rapper extraordinaire Will Smith has mastered two specific things: looking the same over a 25-year period and conquering the global box-office with each new release. His multi-decade stint in Hollywood had included everything from a rough financial ride, to a hit TV series (The Fresh Prince of Bel Air), to a string of questionable rumours. Nowadays, the Fresh Prince/Mr. Fourth of July is seen to have lost his crown. After forcing his children, Willow and Jaden down our throats, the critical and commercial consensus is decidedly mixed. Thankfully, his latest flick, Focus, in no way resembles Men in Black 3 or After Earth.
This crime-comedy is a significant left turn for the 46-year-old mega-star. Placing his family-friendly reputation on the line, this MA15+ caper might just kick start a ‘Smith-aissance’. Like the plot itself, the final product delivers several mind-bogging surprises worth your hard-earned dollars. This pretty-good-not-great distraction occasionally plays a bum hand. Similarly to The Gambler, this crime-dramedy brings one key ingredient to the table: fun. What could have been another Runner Runner actually comes out to be as charming, thrilling, and cool as its lead. The plot, like most conman flicks, revolves around an addicted near-middle-aged male unable to control himself. Nicky Spurgeon (Smith) is the best in the business. He can engage in witty conversation, take your watch, and empty your bank account at the same time. One night, whilst dining in a swanky hotel, Nicky rescues amateur grifter Jess Burnett (Margot Robbie).
Soon, Nicky and Jess become the sexy, criminal equivalent of Daniel and Mr. Miyagi. Throughout Jess’s training, Nicky (you guessed it) becomes infatuated with this wily femme fatale. As the Superbowl kicks off in New Orleans, and thousands of easy targets descend upon Nicky and his team, the girl and the job may violently collide. As usual, the trailer gives away significant chunks of plot and character details. The first-half’s will-he-won’t-he struggle comes off as a rushed bet. If he is as popular and smooth as the movie suggests, why does he fall for this girl straight away? Besides the obvious beauty and sassy persona, Jess never comes off as THE girl to throw it all away for. More so, Nicky’s interior issues deliver little depth beyond Smith’s performance. Beyond the occasional narration and profound statement, the drama is left completely up to Smith’s wide array of facial expressions.
Focus is more jumbled and convoluted than any heist Danny Ocean and co. could ever think up. The first half’s shenanigans effectively put the movie’s point across. The world-building, despite expecting us to believe everything falls into perfect sequence every time, places an alluring veil over our eyes. The New Orleans sequence shows off each character’s skills with undying swagger. Despite the suspension of disbelief, the team’s choreographed, rhythmic routine is just too damn watchable. Yes, they are horrible people. But you can’t help but respect people who are this good! Well, maybe that’s just me. The Superbowl sequence is, undeniably, Focus’ most effective play. Its escalating tension and applause-worthy pay-off is worth the admission cost. Sadly, the seceding 45-50 minutes aren’t nearly as compelling or impactful.
Gracefully, however, writer/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy Stupid Love, I Love You Phillip Morris), endearingly concentrate on the short game. Their David Mamet-esque dialogue delivers several laugh-out-loud moments. The duo’s startling attention to detail and picturesque technical precision works wonders throughout. Each scene, sporting enough electrifying compositions and gorgeous cinematographic intricacies to keep the appetite wet, hurls you into Nicky’s enviable existence. Lathering each frame in gorgeous settings, stunning outfits, and attractive bodies, this dynamic duo knows what audiences crave for. This is, essentially, a warped sequel to 2005’s Hitch. Smith, diving back into the professional-with-a-conscience character type, is his usual uber-charismatic self. He and Robbie’s immense chemistry hits whenever the plot or script miss.
Focus, despite losing focus halfway through, delivers enough surprises to get away with the score. Smith and Robbie, set to star in DC Comics’ blockbuster The Sinister Six, wholly elevate the production. Ficarra and Requa’s stylish flourishes and fun dialogue save this caper-comedy from February’s dumping ground wall of shame.