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Movie Review: Focus -- Hard to Miss the Misdirection

02/26/2015 08:59 am ET | Updated Apr 28, 2015

Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's Focus brings to mind Tony Gilroy's similarly complex, but more fun, Duplicity, from a couple of years ago: A tale of love among con men, in which emotion -- considered weakness in this trade -- becomes a factor. 

Focus works hard and does manage to generate entertainment. But, the strain shows, and the creative team (also responsible for writing Bad Santa and I Love You Philip Morris) can't seem to blend wit with plot complexity. 

Will Smith plays Nicky, a boss among con artists (with a Minor in pocket-picking), who recruits newbie Jess (Margot Robbie) for the light-fingered team he's assembling for the Super Bowl. They swarm the sites filled with high-rollers, lifting wallets, watches, jewelry and purses in an elaborate and fruitful criminal enterprise. 

But though Jess and Nicky seem to connect -- including when he uses her as an unwitting shill in a major sting -- he takes off with nothing more than a: "Nice job," as a going-away present. So things seem tricky when they run across each other again in Buenos Aires, where Nicky is running a scam for the owner of a race-car team (Rodrigo Garcia). 

The theme is misdirection, and the ways we allow our focus to be diverted from what's important while our pocket is being picked. The question, of course, remains the same: Can a conman fall in love? Or is it always a scam?

Ficcara and Requa keep things busy, but that's not the same as making them convincing.

This review continues on my website.