It’s depressing how two gorgeous Hollywood stars are unable to muster enough will and resolve to make a low-beat, hammered-down story worth $20. Will Smith and Margot Robbie are indeed two very attractive people, and when dunked into this plot are able to play off each other with more energy than kids on a merry-go-round. But when the plot begins to kick into gear I’m afraid not even Robbie’s winning smile can make sense of it.
Focus is all about conmen working cons and pulling off quick, easy pickpocket jobs that, when accumulated, can amount to $1.2 million. It’s just their luck that everyone they steal from is wearing an Omega or has a Prada slung over their shoulder. But hey, in a movie where a beautiful dame and a hunky dude can cross paths accidentally on multiple occasions, middle-income folks are allowed to bloat their expense budgets.
Smith plays Nicky Spurgeon, a descendant of royal conmen. He could strip you down to your bare undies before you’d even realise Will Smith was standing in front of you. But he’s lonely. Oh, so lonely. He opens Focus trying to land dinner reservations for one, until finally a restaurant hears his woeful plea and takes him in. Whom should he meet there but Jess Barrett (Robbie), the impossibly pretty damsel who happens to be in distress from a touchy drunk at the bar, and finds it appropriate to approach Nicky to act as her protective boyfriend. If I had a girl like Margot Robbie do that to me, I’d be looking for the hidden cameras and expecting Ashton Kutcher to leap out from under the table.
And what luck this is! Both Nicky and Jess are into the con business. This isn’t a meet-cute. It’s a sign from the gods. Somewhere out there Aphrodite is hovering without her clothes, chuckling to herself at the wonders she can concoct.
Nicky takes Jess under his wing, teaching her all the good stuff. But she’s a natural. At a large sting during some kind of street festival, she shows Nicky’s team how it’s done, picking wallet after wallet, watch after watch. Nicky observes from a nearby balcony, smirking at the talent of his protege. Soon after they’re in bed together, the picture-perfect interracial Hollywood couple.
All this is just the setup. After an improbable and implausible con game at a football match wins Nicky a lot of money, he decides enough’s enough, hands Jess 80 grand, and dumps her at the airport.
Now the story speeds forward three years to Buenos Aires. Nicky’s about to sell a fake formula to the rival racing team of Rafael Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro), in an attempt to sabotage their cars and allow Garriga’s team to win the championship. Just before he can execute the plan, however, he spots… why yes, it’s Jess Barrett! There she is, descending the grand staircase like a remade Scarlett O’Hara. Aphrodite’s working overtime here.
The plot swells these two unfortunate souls into a whirlpool of lies and deceit, which, of course, is the name of their game. Nicky can’t tell if Jess is being serious about her dating Garriga. Jess can’t be sure if Nicky is really a changed man and hasn’t been working the streets in two years. We can’t tell either, but the difference is we don’t care very much. And there’s something fishy about Owens (Gerald McRaney), Garriga’s head of security. He skulks around too knowingly.
The irony is unavoidable. Focus is a movie that lacks focus. I enjoyed the playfulness of Smith and Robbie, who make a good, albeit impossible, couple. And some of the con scenes reminded me of the old street magicians I used to admire when I was younger. But there is no beat to the story. No life. It is a showcase for beautiful people living beautiful but tainted lives. At the end of it all, we feel like the ones being conned. Our money is taken right before our eyes, and we are aware that we will never see it, ever again.
Best Moment | Watching BD Wong behaving like a total jerk in a typical Asian stereotype.
Worst Moment | Nicky and Jess arguing at ridiculous times, like, oh I dunno, just before they’re both about to be killed.