There was a time in the past when Will Smith was the most charming of actors. Any movie he made was enhanced by the pleasure of his personality. Then came "After Earth" and his career has never recovered. In fact in his new film "Focus" neophyte actress Margot Robbie acts circles around him. It isn't that Smith gives a bad performance, it's just that it isn't a great one.
Smith plays Nicky, an excellent thief, grifter, con man and all around good crook. Robbie plays Jess, a young woman who wants to be part of the game, She introduces herself to Nicky and the first half of the movie is him teaching her the tricks of the trade. She is an apt pupil. This half of the movie has some highs and lows. The lows occur in the training phase when the plot seems to grind to a halt.
Things perk up in the second half when Nicky decides to make a score using the race car secrets of rich entrepreneur Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro). Just as he has him in his crosshairs Jess appears on the scene. This makes Nicky lose "focus" and places the entire scheme in jeopardy.
The second half moves along a little faster but it is one twist and turn after another. Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa seem determined to put one trick over on the audience and then another and then another. It is just too much and these "tricks" wear out their welcome before the movie ends.
Margot Robbie is a joy from beginning to end in the movie. She has a freshness of personality and a true sense of who her character is. She also has the acting talent to provide all the nuances in emotions Jess possesses. This role will provide a big boost to her career.
Just as Will Smith is not up to his usual charming performance, Gerald McRaney appears miscast as Garriga's henchman Owens. He gives an uneven performance that makes a shaky script even shakier. His character just adds to the muddle of the ending, and that is not a good thing.
The movie is rated R for profanity and violence.
The premise of the movie has you rooting for people who are crooks, and who rob from people like you and me. That gets a little hard to do. Still the charm of Robbie allows you to suspend reality and pull for her. The rest, not so much.
"Focus" has a lot of blurred lines to cross and to hear. This isn't Smith at his best. Luckily he has a first rate co-star who gives her all in making this movie as entertaining as it is.
I scored "Focus" a blurry 5 out of 10.
Jackie K Cooper
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