Movie Review: Focus

From the directors of dram-coms Crazy Stupid Love and I Love You Phillip Morris, comes a twisted game of lies and deception in Focus, a heist film with a tad of espionage and just a dash of cheesy romance. Bringing the comical loudmouth of Will Smith back into the game of good films, Focus takes a peek inside the life of a veteran conman, detailing every dark secret he holds, hidden behind a persona of sleek suits and slight-of-hand. From deadly gambles to a stale and cliché love story between two frisky thieves, Focus was a decent heist flick to enjoy on a weekend, but not all that memorable in the long run.


Nicky (Will Smith) is the best at what he does. A master of deception and trickery, both with the cards and the girls, he prides himself on his unnerving determination to win. But, with the sudden arrival of a frisky femme fatale Jess (Margot Robbie), has Nicky finally met his match? Entangling Nicky in her own schemes after he abruptly cuts her from his team of calculated crooks, Jess brings more danger and more heat into the conman's life than Nicky ever imagined. Following a tale of misguided flings and toying emotions, along with deadly risks and high intrigue, Focus promises a smooth dive into the dark art of the con.


Intrigued by a trailer that managed to lay out most of the story for all to see, from the cheesy romance to the anticipation of risky consequences, as well as harbor a bit in the shadows for me to discover at the theater, you could say I was interested in this movie of gamblers and damsels in distress. Delivering both the return of Will Smith to a role quite similar to his dating coach role in 2005's Hitch, as well as the promise of a classy conman tale, Focus had everything it needed to be a mildly memorable film to ignite the Spring season. Mixing business with pleasure in this faced-paced dramedy, the film held up most of what the previews promised, aside from a decent bout of near-end twists and some dreary scenes of eye-rolling romance. In the end, it was worthy of a ticket and some popcorn, but didn't stick with me entirely throughout all its slight-of-hand tricks.


Heist films have been around nearly as long as heists themselves have. From the biggest robberies to the slightest maneuvers of calculated conmen, the art of stealing and deceiving is nothing new to the silver screen. But, with a major focus on the romantic endeavors of the two main characters, can we really call this one a heist film? Yes, the main goal of the duo of Nicky and Jess may be to rob millions from a glamorous motorsports tycoon, but the real basis of this charming and suave plot is the always-swaying flirting of the two frisky con artists. A more-or-less flawed aspect of the film, the clichéd romance effortlessly drags the story on, parting and reuniting the clever duo whenever it seemed necessary. Aligning itself with the less-involving "big con" that Nicky and Jess clamber towards, the underlying romantic tones give the film both an intriguing fling to follow, and also an annoyingly yawn-worthy bout of cheesy dialogue. And with this whimsical fling of tricks and lovemaking, this film can be called a heist film as much as it can be called a romantic comedy.


The subjects of the flawed romance of this film reside with one actor who's been almost everywhere, and another who hasn't seen the world yet. Teaming clever loudmouth Will Smith with the devilishly beautiful rookie Margot Robbie, Focus pits two charismatic and clever personas against the likes of minor cons and deadly betrayals. Working masterfully together, Robbie and Smith ultimately keep this film afloat. Even when their mostly bland romantic acting comes to light, the duo manages to hold my interest with their budding chemistry and combined smart aleck wit.


Returning from a few missteps in the acting business, from the jarring Men in Black 3 to the brooding father-son sci-fi failure After Earth, Will Smith begins his faithful rise back to good filmmaking with this hopeful heist flick. Bringing back the candidly campy sarcasm and hilarity of his past roles, more exclusively his role in the rom-com Hitch, Smith tackles the role of a daring conman with no limits effortlessly, holding nothing back. While it may not compare to his greater roles in humor or drama, with his skills seemingly fading with his age, Focus proves Smith can still entertain us in a lead role, as well as milk even more cash from moviegoers who loved him in the past. At age 46, Smith of course doesn't plan on quitting the acting business anytime soon, but will hopefully continue to deliver classy performances like this one, rather than forgettable ones in films like After Earth and Winter's Tale.  


Before the duo of Smith and Robbie join forces as the villainous team, the Suicide Squad, in the 2016 DC Comics film, the two play off each other's wits and emotions in this wild film, as they trick one another at every turn. With Smith already known to be a well-trained, loud-speaking powerhouse on-screen, we as moviegoers yearned for a meaty role for newcomer Margot Robbie to tackle. In preparation for her to don the psychotic yet conniving role as the Joker's sidekick/lover Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, Robbie channels the sharp and seductive attitude she brought to her role as Jordan Belfort's (Leonardo DiCaprio) second wife in The Wolf of Wall Street. Doing so, we got yet another intriguing taste of how much potential the actress has to deliver in the future. One of the highlights of this dreary rom-com, Robbie shines as the femme fatale-turned-con artist, as she brings her own seductive hilarity and quick-witted trickery to this promising role.


Overall, this dull attempt at a romantic heist film hits its mark on the casting, but inevitably falls flat when it comes to delivering fresh passion between its stars and gritty intrigue within its heist plot. Even with top gun Will Smith and fresh-face Margot Robbie in the lead, this dramedy fails to deliver an involving story with a memorable premise. Similar to last year's gritty but lacking thriller The Gambler, Focus gave us a promising preview of an exciting and daring flick to start off the Spring season, but ultimately delivers a clichéd love story set inside a less-than-memorable crime caper.


I gave this film a 7 out of 10 because, while it did offer up some classy tunes and scenery to go with its even-more classy cast of all-stars and newcomers, it dragged on with a cheesy thief-on-thief love story that also managed to blur its indication of exactly what type of genre it was trying to be. Whether it was a heist film, a romantic comedy, or a gripping drama (or all three), Focus was a promising weekend film for someone who wasn't expect a whole lot from it.                                      

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