Focus is a frothy, forgettable, fun heist movie
‘Focus’ is kind of enjoyable, but it’s also kind of stupid.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. A con man walks into the room and stares at you. He winks and says, “Am I playing you or are you playing me?” After some daring adventure, the “game” becomes increasingly convoluted and less and less feasible. Soon enough, you say to the con man, “Perhaps ’twas I that played you, eh?” After another few twists that only make sense if you had read the script beforehand, you part ways feeling happy but hollow, like you just ate a giant inflatable plate of spaghetti smothered with real cheese. Sure, it was good going down, but it won’t leave you with anything.
Focus is a heist movie in the spirit of The Italian Job or Ocean’s 13 (that’s right, I said 13). It stars Will Smith as Nicky, an older, talented thief who has charisma nearly akin to Will Smith himself! That’s a minor miracle, Will Smith actually showcasing his fun, dangerous side (not too dangerous, but still). The movie also stars Margot Robbie as Jess, a grifter wannabe who stumbles across Nicky and decides she wants a mentor in the “art” of what you might call “gentleman theft.” It’s all slick moves and distractions, nothing violent, but a lot of pickpocketing.
So after a bit of reasonable back and forth, Nicky agrees to let Jess join his huge team of thieves as they steal from innocent victims at a “Super Bowlish” football event with a thinly defined and tossed out code of ethics that basically excludes the elderly and disabled. This leads to the most tense and interesting scene of the movie, where Nicky faces off against a foreign rich guy (a fantastic B.D. Wong). Although the resolution is decently done, it’s ultimately a bit of a letdown because the rest of the movie doesn’t get that interesting again.
The second part of the movie is three years later, where Nicky is about to run a new con, paid for by a Formula 1 rich guy (Rodrigo Santoro). And wouldn’t you know it, he runs into Jess again! But who’s really playing the con here and who’s playing an even deeper con? Will love conquer all? Unfortunately, the chemistry between Margot Robbie and Will Smith isn’t that great, and the writing is very flip on why they like each other. That said, Margot Robbie is great with an underwritten character, stealing “focus” every moment she’s on screen. Gerald McRaney as the rich guy’s head of security is also curmudgeonly amusing, while Adrian Martinez as Nicky’s friend Farhad is hilarious. Although I didn’t really like how he was just assigned to be Persian, considering the actor isn’t.
Are there twists? Turns? Etc? Of course! Some predictable, some silly, some very predictable, and a few kind of cool. The lesson seems to be “love is more important than money,” which while seemingly important, also seems out of sync for a heist movie. The romance angle just doesn’t work, but the rest is decent fun.