Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Movie Review #224: "Focus" (2015)

Ticket Price: $7.00
Director: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
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Nicky (Will Smith) is a veteran con man who was raised in the 'art' from a very young age. One night at a restaurant, he meets a young woman named Jess (Margot Robbie), who is trying to pull an amateur con on him. He quickly picks up on it and eventually agrees to take her under his wing. After pulling a few jobs in New Orleans and beginning a romantic relationship with her, Nicky parts way with Jess. A few years later, Nicky is trying to run a con on some Formula-1 race car owners, but when Jess pops up and is involved with one of the owners, it throws a wrench in his plans. 

When the general consensus of people who have seen a movie collectively come together to agree that a large portion of said movie is utterly ridiculous, chances are, the collective is right.

"Focus" seems like an attempt at being this decade's "Ocean's Eleven" as far as con-artist films are concerned. It wants to be that fun, over-the-top heist movie where all of those involved pull off "the big job" and recap how it was pulled off. Unfortunately, this film falls much too short in a number of areas. While it starts out relatively strong, somewhere along the way, signals get crossed and the movie loses, well, focus. Will Smith plays Nicky, who is the calm, smooth, charming character tailor made for Smith and his demeanor. He always tends to play these types of roles, never really venturing that far outside of them. Of course, we'll personally never forgive him for Cypher Raige, but that tangent can be saved for another time. Margot Robbie plays foster kid turned con-artist Jess, who is initially hired simply because she is beautiful, but becomes a decent thief in her own right. Robbie has proven herself to be more than just a pretty face between this film and "The Wolf of Wall Street," and we're looking forward to seeing her as Harley Quinn in DC's "Suicide Squad." Speaking of "Suicide Squad," how weird is it that both she and Will Smith will be in that movie together, too? If their chemistry in "Focus" is any indication of how well they work together, we might be in for a better movie than we think in that latest DC venture. Both Smith and Robbie have an undeniable charm about them, and together, they are quite great. Another sort of random thing we will say about Robbie is that she has a really great fake-cry. Her tears flowed more than once in this movie and quite convincingly, which is something that has become exceedingly more rare with today's "actresses".

There are some really entertaining and even somewhat thrilling parts of this film that happen early on, and this helps get the audience engaged and willing to take part in what's happening, as well as aids us in suspending our disbelief just long enough before it starts to go haywire. Though this film is supposed to be about the artistry of the con, Nicky runs a massive network of people that are less con-men and more pickpockets. What his crew does could be considered petty theft and identity fraud since they steal watches, wallets and  jewelry, as well as skims credit card information with various card readers. His workers never do anything that would be considered con artistry during this first segment of the film, and when we say "segment," we mean it, because this movie has a literal break in the middle that separates one film into two distinctly different parts. That being said, this first act is probably the most entertaining part of the movie. It is like watching magic tricks combined with choreographed dance as they swipe a watch or a wallet and quickly pass it off from one person to the next, playing on our everyday fears of how easily one could be taken advantage of by a dishonest person with a sneaky, quick hand. It's once we exit the first portion filled with petty theft and intrigue and move into the big cons where things start to unravel, and fast. The way these larger cons work are totally contrived and rely heavily on coincidence and luck more than solid planning. Plus, the relationship aspect between Smith and Robbie becomes a greater plot point, having more to do with "do they or don't they or can they or can't they trust each other" instead of conning. The movie becomes less about being smart and more about wanting to be jaw dropping, but really, it winds up being more eyebrow raising and silly than anything else.

In the end, the movie as a whole cannot be discounted by its ending, which is entertaining enough, but loses a lot steam towards the end because of the sheer amount of tomfoolery, coincidence, fate and hooey that are needed to make it plausible. Maybe Will Smith spent a little too much time with M. Night Shyamalan on the set of "After Earth" because the ending of this movie gives Shyamalan a run for his money on twists.

My Rating: 5.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 6.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 55%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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