film reel image

film reel image

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Focus 2015 * * 1/2 Stars

FocusDirectors: John Requa, Glenn Ficarra
Year: 2015
Rated R
Rating: * * 1/2 Stars
Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro

Margot Robbie is one of the co-stars of Focus (the film I'm about to review). I gotta admit, she's gorgeous. I mean absolute perfection. So it was difficult for me to concentrate on the gist of everything when all I could do is uh, "focus" on her (ha ha). Will Smith is in Focus as well. In the last three years he's appeared in the bomb After Earth and made a guest appearance in an even bigger bomb, Winter's Tale. He hasn't really been the blockbuster stud we've been used to seeing lately. Was this 2015 release the draw that gave him his mojo back? Hardly. Based on the last three weeks, its box office take has been dropping faster than the ball on New Year's Eve. Together these two good looking people make their debut as a full fledged screen pair. Their characters (Nicky and Jess Barrett) are con artists. One is the teacher and the other is the student. They steal from denizens good and bad, they fall in love, and they contend to build a small fortune until one of their fumbled cons leaves them within an inch of their lives. The result is sadly a mixed review from me. And to borrow from the definition of the word focus, I'll say this: what we have on screen is something that fails to be the center of interest or activity.

Focus, in its hour and forty-five minute running time, is somehow split up into two halves. The first half involves theft of watches, pickpocketing, and an organization of pickpocketers. The second half (taking place three years later) chronicles a scam within the backdrop of motorsports (IndyCar racing). There are cons, double cons, multiple double crosses, and revisited relationships. Yet nothing seems at stake and variable tension is at times, omitted. Granted, with all of this going on, it's a Warner Bros. production that still feels unfinished. Basically, I just threw my hands up in the air and decided to call it a mundane love story between Smith and Robbie's characters. However, the fact that Focus is slick, contains a few cool whip pans, is locale based (Buenos Aires and New Orleans to name two), and has a breezy tone, sometimes negates from its shortcomings.

In terms of the acting, it's substantial if not unchallenged. Smith as Nicky, reinvents the typical cool cat in sunglasses. Just think his Hitch character with the same confident strut but posing as a thief and a habitual liar. Then there's Margot Robbie. She plays it dumb as Jess Barrett, the con world's young Padawan in training. She's not necessarily miscast and as mentioned earlier, incredibly easy on the eyes. It's just that this is no where near as strong a turn as she posed in 2013's The Wolf of Wall Street. That leaves B.D. Wong giving the highest caliber performance in Focus. He does the whole scene-stealing, cameo thing. I'm a Law & Order junkie and he's been on that show for a countless number of years. Here he goes unrecognizable playing Liyuan Tse, a compulsive gambler and obvious millionaire who hinges on taking Nicky for everything he's worth (at an NFL game). I had to watch the closing credits to confirm that it was actually him.

In the realm of directing, John Requa and Glenn Ficarra shoot the film at times, as a tribute to Martin Scorsese. They become cinematic masturbaters with some of their set ups (there's a drawn out sequence having to do with betting at The Super Bowl). Also at the same time, they are clearly filming a variation of Ocean's Eleven complete with a saucy 60's/70's throwback soundtrack. These guys keep Focus at a barely rated R punch. There is one violent confrontation and everything before it is suggestive innuendo/filtered-in f words.

Anyway, I'm not recommending this flick but I will almost refrain: if you decide to take in a viewing, this exercise will make you think twice about standing near someone in a crowded area (who knows, you might get lifted). And as I left the theater, I stayed at least ten feet away from the nearest patron. Overall, it's a sketchy affair, a slight disappointment. Here's my sage advise to Will Smith: it's not too late to sign on to do Independence Day 2. It hasn't started filming yet and you could continue your life plan as a superior box office likeness.

Of note: I love The Rolling Stones as much as anybody and I even dig the song, "Sympathy For The Devil". But gee whiz does it have to appear in every darn movie these days (including this one). The novelty of this 1969 ditty is getting really tired. In the case of Focus, I don't care if its lyrics have something to do with a major plot point. There are other songs out there that spout "woo woo" you know.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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