Slick, Sly, and Focused
by: Anthony Zangrillo
The chemistry between Will Smith and Margot Robbie shine in Focus, yet an overplayed double-crossing plot derails the frantic and exciting pace of the unpredictable first half. The scribes of “Crazy, Stupid, Love” (Glenn Ficarra & John Requa) know how to spice up the romantic comedy genre, and succeed at conning the audiences throughout the film. However, the meticulously plotted script spoils the climactic dupe, causing the film to limp pass the finish line.
Will Smith stars as Nicky, the suave, seasoned master of misdirection. Nicky takes the inexperienced Jess (Robbie) under his wing, transforming the watch-pilfering hustler into a professional con artist. Along the twists and turns, Nicky kindles a relationship with Jess, forcing him to choose between his career of lies and the girl that can finally make him leave his life of deceit behind.
Spanning New York, New Orleans, and Buenos Aires, Focus roars out of the gate with a fun, yet relaxed tone. Smith and Robbie play with audiences’ perceptions by committing multiple hustles within a blink of a second. Nicky’s con organization strikes their targets in perfect unison with a deluge of misdirection and sleight of hand. These early scenes are somewhat comical, as the master criminals play on the “tells” of their unsuspecting preys.
While most subsidiary characters disappear before really getting any significant characterization, Adrian Martinez excels as the comical, computer genius Farhad. Lewd and awkward, Martinez fully captures the brilliant unorthodox that embodies the tech aspects of Nicky’s organization. From the first time Farhad lurches on the screen, he steals chuckles through his blunt reaction to the overwhelmingly beautiful Jess. The writers show enough restraint to never force Farhad to dominate the screen. The natural ease of his deviancy provides a nice comedic outlet.
The dangerous addiction of gambling subtly creeps as a theme of the early scenes of the film. Smart audiences will relegate this technique as an attempt at foreshadowing. However, the writers swerve, utilizing their foundation in an unexpected way. While this review won’t spoil this scene, B.D. Wong (Law and Order: SVU) shines as the eccentric gambler Liyuan in a surprising comedic turn.
Unfortunately, the second half of the film slows down drastically and begins to suffer through the generic aspects of a romantic comedy. Three years separate the first and second act, as Nicky’s next target is the European racing scene. The con gets complicated, when Nicky’s millionaire racing employer happens to be dating Jess. Distracted from the current goal, the rest of the film focuses on Nick’s attempt to reconcile with Jess after the long gap in their romance.
While Robbie and Smith’s chemistry does not suffer, the plot begins to stagger. House of Cards fan will appreciate Gerald McRaney’s gruff and comical advisor/bodyguard to the European racing millionaire. By the end of the film, the plot undergoes a number of unnecessary twists and turns that ultimately has no effect on the audiences. Still, Focus is a fun and thrilling ride that audiences will enjoy.