Sunday, June 21, 2015

2015 Rewind- 'Focus' review

To continue my 2015 rewind series before I wrap up the first half of the year, I took a look at Will Smith's latest movie Focus. Billed as Smith's return to adult filmmaking, Focus also stars the gorgeous Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro and a few other actors in a con man thriller that works at times, and fails miserably at other times. The chemistry between Smith and Robbie is spectacular- in fact, they both give very good performances in this film. But as a movie, Focus is bogged down by a layer of artificiality and a series of twists and turns that will leave you saying "What was the point of all that?" It's an adequately made, occasionally alluring comedy that ultimately fails to deliver much of substance.

Nicky (Will Smith) is a classically trained con man who has spent years perfecting the art and craft of getting people to trust him. One night, he pretends to be conned by a woman (Margot Robbie) who has just entered the game. She tries to con him, but he knows what's going on and the deal falls apart. The woman, who's real name is Jess, sees value in Nicky and wants to learn more about stealing things from. Nicky and Jess travel down to New Orleans to start a job at the Super Bowl. Nicky teaches Jess about how to con people and they sorta start to fall in love, but before you know it, Nicky has left- the job is done, he tells Jess.

Three years later, Nicky is in Spain working on a race car con for Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro). There, he bumps into Jess, who is apparently dating Garriga. Nicky tries to reconnect with Jess, but she seems adamant to leave their past behind them. Through a series of bizarre twists and turns, the movie wraps up......I guess.

I could easily play this review pretty safe, praise Robbie's impressive performance, Smith's charisma and how smoothly made the film is. But I'm not quite going to do that. Because the script for Focus is so bad. Written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, Focus is so haphazardly and pervasively twisty that it feels almost ridiculous and pointless. Literally, by the end of this movie I was very frustrated by the whole ordeal. You can watch Focus, turn your brain off, and probably enjoy it. But there's no real plot, no true character development. The level of insight is minimal. Focus shows promise at times, and is always mildly amusing, but it doesn't do much that works on a conceptual or story level.

No matter how many problems the movie runs into with its pain-stakingly set up twists and turns, the performances are always stellar. Robbie, who first appeared in 2013's The Wolf of Wall Street, is a terrific leading lady and will certainly get more roles down the line. Smith is impressive enough as well, and the supporting cast fits the bill well. I'm excited to see Robbie and Smith take on Suicide Squad in the near future, with a (hopefully) better script.

The thing that struck me the most about Focus was the pointlessness of it all. The movie is trivial to the point of frustration, settling for a never ending bag of tricks and allusions to distract you from actual character development and story. The movie opens with a thinly detailed con in New Orleans before it moves on to a thinly detailed con in Spain. The twists are either impossible and completely implausible, or obvious from a mile away. And the ending is unsatisfying, leaving our characters in a position that feels awkward and forced.

Focus entertains in spurts, but on a character and story level, it never really comes to fruition. Smith and Robbie are great, the movie looks good and some of the con stuff is fun. But, like any good con, Focus tricks you into thinking that it's a good movie. Look a little beneath the surface and there's really nothing there. The twists start to accumulate and by the time the third act rolls around, there's not much left to give this movie. It starts out flavorful enough, but it becomes dull and preposterous after a while. And that's sad because the talent deserved better.

THE FINAL GRADE:  C-                                             (5.4/10)

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