Focus: Film ReviewCast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, BD Wong
Director: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
The con is back on in Will Smith's latest.
Smith is Nicky Spurgeon, a veteran con-man who takes newbie Jess (Robbie) under his wing and into his bed for his latest scam. But when the two part ways and reunite by chance three years later, their meeting could cause all kinds of problems for either side.
For a film with as generic a title as Focus and with a subject matter of con-men and heists, this latest heist flick entrant into the pantheon does little to distract you from its sleight of hand trickery as the cat-and-mouse game plays out.
Packaged up into a pristine shimmer with many backgrounds and scenes looking like they're straight out of adverts, there's very little to shake your attention away from the flimsiest of plots and lightest of characters.
With the likes of Now You See Me, American Hustle, The Wolf of Wall Street, Ocean's 11,12 and 13, The Hustler and others ringing in your ears, you know nobody is to be trusted (hence shattering any kind of illusion before it's started) and no lines are simply thrown away for no reason whatsoever (in fact the denouement's resolution is mentioned early on if you know where to look)
But the joy of Focus comes from seeing Smith hustling as an ultra-slick veteran conman out to score big; there's a thin crackle of chemistry between him and rookie pickpocket wannabe big timer Jess (a star cementing turn from Robbie) whose naïveté sets you off mark to begin with; (it is, after all, a conman caper, and everybody is on the make, surely)
There's a minor fizzle that never quite froths over in Crazy Stupid Love's directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's handling of Focus' action as it swirls from one moment to the next.
But like any magic trick or smart con, the real thrill is supposed to come in the chase.
However, a healthy detachment from any veracity to anyone's comments and a once-over-lightly touch for the main leads actually holds the film back from achieving some of the tension it occasionally strives for.
And at times, it's a real struggle to love - or even like - Smith whose weariness requires effort to engage with; as opposed to Robbie whose infectious and effortless charm is self evident from the moment she's on screen. Equally, the tubby comedy relief offered by one of Nicky's cohorts played by Adrian Martinez - which speaks volumes that a supporting character's better written than anyone else.
That and the fact the heists are more fun and a little more convincing than the two lead's story.
(And don't the best heist films work when you care about the protagonists?)
That's not to say a couple of sequences don't stand out in Focus.
These include BD Wong's extended cameo at a high stakes bet at a football game and an initially puzzling sequence with a goon sent for Nicky which really see the film focus in on what it does best, by sharpening the elements and giving you something to really drill down to. Which is the inherent problem of Focus - you're expecting the bait and switch at any moment, which cripples it and the two halves of the story don't quite gel together as perhaps they should.
Ultimately, Focus is a frothy style over substance tale, complete with the smooth upbeat jazzy music you'd expect of its genre and the resolution you can see a mile off, rather than a smart last minute pull-the-rug-from-under-you Eureka moment.
The greatest con Focus will be able to pull will be convincing an audience into either loving it or remembering it days after it's done.