I don’t believe in revealing “spoilers,” but I’m tempted to
break my own rule with regard to Focus, in
which Will Smith plays a master con artist who mentors Margot Robbie. Here’s
what happens: he cons her. She cons him. He cons her again, and she manages to do
the same. Then he cons her once more, and she cons him again, only this time he
cons her in a bigger way, except he doesn’t realize that she’s conned him
completely. Then they con each other. And so on.
It’s fun to be fooled—up to a point—which is why movies
about confidence men (and women) are so popular. The Sting may be the ultimate example, but there is something
hollow about Focus. Will Smith is
enormously charismatic and Margot Robbie is likeable enough (and stunning to
behold) but the people they play aren’t all that interesting.
In trying to be clever, writer-directors Glenn Ficarra and
John Requa have painted themselves into a corner. If they fleshed out these
characters, as they might in a different kind of film, they couldn’t pull the
wool over our eyes over and over again. They fared much better in the
underappreciated I Love You Phillip
Morris, with Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor, which (not incidentally) was
based on a real-life story.
Practicing the kind of diversion that’s part of a con man’s
stock in trade, Ficarra and Requa keep us amused with a series of sleek
settings, from New Orleans to Buenos Aires, and revealing moments in which we
learn how professional thieves and pickpockets ply their trade right under our
collective nose. At some point the window dressing falls away and we’re stuck
with our central figures; that’s when the fun begins to peter out. Supporting
players Adrian Martinez, BD Wong, Rodrigo Santoro, and Gerald McRaney add life
and color to their scenes, which helps.
Focus isn’t a bad
movie, but it isn’t terribly good, either. It might pass the time on TV or an
airplane ride; as big-screen entertainment it isn’t up to par, especially for a
Will Smith vehicle.