Focus

February 27, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

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.

Crazy, Stupid, Love

July 29, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore
Directed by: Glenn Ficarra (“I Love You Phillip Morris”) and John Requa (“I Love You Phillip Morris”)
Written by: Dan Fogelman (“Tangled”)

Forget marriage counseling. If you really want to know the status of your relationship, pay attention to what’s happening under the dinner table during a romantic evening out. Playing footsies means there’s still some spark. Flatfooted and aloof? You might as well start drawing up those divorce papers.

At least that’s where loving husband and father Cal Weaver (Steve Carell) finds himself during the opening scenes of the surprisingly pleasant albeit conventional and ineffectively titled romantic comedy “Crazy, Stupid, Love.” There’s no footwork here. In fact, his wife and high school sweetheart Emily (Julianne Moore) fesses up to an affair and pulls the plug on 25 years of marriage. Screenwriter Dan Fogelman (“Tangled”) doesn’t give much explanation as to how their marital problems have reached criticality, but you know things are extremely broken.

Drowning his sorrows at a posh local bar,Calbecomes the pet project of smooth-talking ladies man Jacob (Ryan Gosling), who takes pity on him and his middle-aged lameness. Their goal (besides referencing “The Karate Kid” and inventing the verb “Miyagied”): to rediscover Cal’s manhood and – most importantly – get him laid.

Fogelman doesn’t end his matchmaking venture with Cal. As in 2003’s British rom-com “Love Actually,” the narrative in “CSL” is layered with smitten characters and sometimes-underwritten secondary storylines. Here, Cal’s 13-year-old son Robbie (Jonah Bobo) is infatuated with his babysitter Jessica (Analeigh Tipton) who actually has a crush on Cal; aspiring lawyer Hannah (Emma Stone) hopes her nerdy boyfriend (Josh Groban) will pop the big question before she falls prey to Jacob’s charm.

While clichés are no stranger to “CSL,” the all-star cast is able to class up the situations to make them feel as funny and original as possible. Most of the film’s emotion hinges on Carell’s dramatic turn now that he’s proven he can be both hilarious and poignant in dramedies like “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Dan in Real Life.” In CSL, Carell trades barbs with Gosling and tears withMoore, but through subtle dialogue and gesture.

Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (the team behind the gay jailhouse romantic comedy “I Love You Phillip Morris”), “CSL” doesn’t offer anything on the marital front we wouldn’t have learned from watching a rerun of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” But like Cal, there’s something genuinely refreshing about its soft heart, honesty, and squareness, even while our hero mismatches tennis shoes and khakis with a straight face.