Saturday, February 28, 2015

Movie Review: Focus

Is she about to pickpocket him? FOCUS, Will, focus!

Will Smith reminds us why we liked him in the first place. (We never forgot why we like Margot Robbie.)

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In Focus, Will Smith plays Nicky, a confident, smooth-talking con man who runs an organization of professional pickpockets and scammers. Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street) plays Jess, a woman who leverages her looks to make cash through petty crimes and wants in on Nicky's next big scheme. There's an instant attraction between the two (who meet at a bar where she's relieving a drunk fool of his wallet), but because of the nature of the biz they're in, you can never be sure if they're playing each other, if they're being real with each other, or if there's a really, really long con afoot.

After Jess first pleads with Nicky to take her under his wing, he instead takes her out into the snow and gives her a lesson in focus (ahem), set to a jazzy, new-age instrumental that would've been more appropriate if they were in a W hotel lobby. That mood music was as out of place as a darker scene was near the end of the film. But in the middle of those two moments was a whole lot of fun and a bunch of pretty things to look at.

This is one of those movies where you'll catch yourself rooting for the "bad" guy—fast-paced pickpocketing sequences had me smiling ear to ear, amazed at how Nicky's team could lift countless wallets and watches while weaving through clueless crowds in New Orleans. Then about two seconds later I was like, "Wait, that's awful." And ever since I've been constantly touching my coat pockets and shifting my purse around when I'm walking outside because I'm convinced I'll be ripped off at any minute. So thanks for that, Will. Or I guess really I should be thank-scolding writer-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who clearly know a little something about charming bad boys (see Crazy, Stupid, Love).

Anyway, Jess proves herself by being able to up the stakes and improvise on the spot during the pickpocketing spree. The team pulls in $1.2 million for their efforts, and that's when we learn Nicky might not be the best person to trust with all of that cash.

To con or not to con?Eventually, Nicky gets an opportunity to make so many millions that he'll be set for life. The only problem is that Jess may or may not be on the other side of the scam, which involves Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro), a hotshot race car driver, and his right-hand crony Owens (Gerald McRaney, doing his best "Mike from Breaking Bad" impression).

There was so much glamour, so many expensive suits, so many expensive shades, so many cool cons and so much fun trash talk between Nicky, Jess and their crew throughout most of the film that it felt good to have the old Will Smith back. (Was the "take a knee" line Nicky uttered a jokey reference to the terrible After Earth, by the way? I don't even care, I'm telling myself it was.) But then Ficarra and Requa had to go and screw it up with a lame attempt at one last twist that reached too far and fell totally flat.

I'm still glad that Focus helped remind me why I liked Smith in the first place—I've been a fan since the Fresh Prince days and even saw him in concert. The film's a weird mix of heist flick and romantic dramedy, but it mostly works thanks to Smith and Robbie's looks (let's be honest) and performances. Just be forewarned that you're going to be conned out of a decent ending.

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