The Bock’s Office: ‘Focus’ a sham of a scam movie
March 5, 2015
If you own corrective eyewear, and you're planning to see the film "Focus," you may just want to leave your glasses or contacts at home. Watching it as a total blur can only be an improvement.
If you go…
"Focus," rated R
Rating: 1.5 out of 4 stars
Running time: 123 minutes
Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro and Gerald McRaney.
Now playing at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas.
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Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) is a master of the art of the con game, and if there's thing he knows how to spot, it's someone in his racket. When a young woman named Jess (Margot Robbie) tries to pull the wool over his eyes, he's not fooled for an instant but instead offers to take her on and show her some tricks of the trade.
Just as things start to heat up for them both romantically and in their line of work, Nicky makes the call to cut ties for the sake of avoiding things getting too messy.
It's not until three years later that they find each other again, still grifting and now going after the same mark (Rodrigo Santoro), though the attraction they shared is just as strong.
Smith has always been an actor who can bluff his way through anything, but with a script as weak as this, his dramatic side is given more of a workout than he can tolerate. We can only take so much of this smooth-talker's quiet brooding before we lose interest.
After her breakout role in "The Wolf of Wall Street," it's good to see Robbie play a character deeper than Leonardo DiCaprio's neglected wife, but it's not much of a step up with Jess doing little more than shifting between the role of unwitting sidekick and self-assured love interest. And, even she doesn't seem to know which part she's playing at times.
Adrian Martinez is worth a chuckle or two as Nicky's corpulent contemporary in crime, Farhad, who specializes in fake ATMs and the occasional diversionary coronary to aid the gang of thieves in picking pockets and lifting wristwatches.
Santoro is fine but barely there as a billionaire racecar entrepreneur in Argentina, whom Nicky is setting up for the double cross in a subplot nobody can follow, while Gerald McRaney goes into full grouchy old man mode as the tycoon's untrusting head of security.
As our protagonist so often explains, just because you see something one way doesn't mean it's reality. The same is true for whoever thought this movie was a good idea.
A good con film needs to have crackling dialogue, and with the exception of some of Nicky's exposition — the mention of the industry's "Toledo Panic Button" — and a scene where the deceitful duo encounters a high roller (B.D. Wong) — purely by chance, of course — there's little convincing in an entirely plodding story.
With Glenn Ficarra and John Requa directing — makers of the criminally overrated "Crazy, Stupid, Love" — it's no shock that the plot is full of non-surprises and distracting filler.
Some skillful scenic shots of New Orleans and Buenos Aires are the most we have to see with a pitiful amount of chemistry between Smith and Robbie. Paul Newman and Robert Redford had more going between them in five minutes of "The Sting" than these two throughout the entire two-hour running time.
"Focus" doesn't even rate compared to the best of its kind — if Nicky were a real person, he'd be running a laughable Three Card Monte while Smith's character from "Six Degrees of Separation" talked him into buying the Brooklyn Bridge, with Danny Ocean and Moses Pray standing on the other side of the street laughing.
Anyone conned into spending their money on it deserves what they get.