Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro
Directed by: Glen Ficarra & John Requa (“Crazy, Stupid Love”)
Written by: Glen Ficarra & John Requa (“I Love You, Phillip Morris”)
I’m a sucker for slick con man talk. I don’t mean to imply I’ve been conned by a professional any higher up the food chain than a fast-talking carny bruising my ego enough to convince me to spend 15 bucks trying to win some knock-off Scooby-Doo plush toy, just that I love the names the con men use for their grifts in movies. Take the “Ocean’s 11/12/13” films, with their “Two Jethros” and their “Susan B. Anthony” and their “Looky-loo with a bundle of joy;” every last utterance invokes world-building that may or may not make much sense, but I’d sure like to learn more about it. “Focus” may not have the breezy swagger Soderbergh infused into the celeb-heavy “Ocean’s” series, but it’s a self-assured caper that doesn’t let one too many turns derail the chemistry of its leads.
After scheming his way into a reservation at a tony restaurant, long time con man Nicky (Will Smith) runs across the beautiful Jess (Margot Robbie) running a con of her own. After her attempts to swindle Nicky are thwarted, she becomes his protégé and lover, joining a confederation of con men in New Orleans, running a massive criminal operation pickpocketing, skimming, and hustling all the suckers in town for the non-branded movie version of the Super Bowl. Nicky breaks off contact with Jess after the score, only to run into her three years later in Buenos Aires while working for her racecar owner boyfriend Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro). His emotions thrown for a loop, Nicky must work the con and convince Jess he’s changed to win her back.
Written and directed by the team behind the wonderful “Crazy, Stupid Love,” Glen Ficarra and John Requa, “Focus” also suffers some of the same setbacks their previous film, namely an effortlessness that doesn’t seem to carry any danger for the characters dancing close to disaster. The tightly choreographed theft on display in New Orleans comes with little threat of danger, despite the grift totaling more than $1 million and being right under the noses of hundreds of thousands of people. And like the Emma Stone reveal in “Crazy, Stupid Love,” there’s another unnecessary twist at the end of the film that only serves to render scenes that came before it pointless or nonsensical. In spite of that, though, the movie star version of Will Smith the world fell in love with 20 years ago is back, finally, after the dismal “After Earth,” and Margot Robbie exudes the energy and sexiness of a young Cameron Diaz. When the two stars are on camera together, especially in a tension-filled high stakes gambling sequence featuring veteran character actor B.D. Wong, you can’t focus on anything but the chemistry.