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The Independent Critic

Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro
Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Rated R
104 Mins.
Warner Brothers

 "Focus" Mostly Works as Escapist Entertainment 
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After the humbling debacle known as After Earth, box-office wunderkind Will Smith really needs for Focus to restore the shine on his box-office reputation. To be fair, pretty much every box-office hero in Hollywood has had an off film or two. It's not exactly rare, but Smith is one of those artists for whom even the not so great films seem to click with the American public.

Will Focus?

It's unlikely that Focus will be the blockbuster that Smith really needs it to be, though the modestly budgeted $50 million film should have a decent shot recouping its production budget at the very least. It's the kind of role that Smith could do in his sleep, and he partially does here, playing Nicky, the kind of slick grifter whose actions never really make sense but you enjoy watching them anyway. Smith's Nicky is a veteran con artist who takes Jess, a terrific Margot Robbie, under his wing. There's not much worse for a con artist than to actually start feeling something, so eventually Nicky breaks up with Jess and the two go on their merry ways.

Fast forward three years. Nicky's cons have increased in size to the point that he's out to fix the Buenos Aires Grand Prix. Unbeknownst to him, Jess also finds herself entangled in the auto racing world and their paths are destined to cross once again.

From the writing/directing team that gave us Bad Santa, we could be forgiven for expecting Focus to be a grittier, edgier film. Of course, that may have been the case if it was up to Margot Robbie, known to most as the trophy wife from The Wolf of Wall Street, and now known as the actress who outright stole Focus from the hip pocket of Will Smith. Robbie's Jess exudes all the slickness, charm, and faux sincerity that one would expect fromt his type of character, exhibiting a playfulness with Smith's Nicky that is fun to watch and absolutely lights up the screen. While Smith isn't shabby here, occasionally radiating that charm we've come to known and love from him, there's a surprising lack of spark here that too often mutes the film into a seriousness that is clearly not intended.

Focus is beautifully photographed, with D.P. Xavier Grobet's lensing creating an almost voyeuristic sensation for those of us watching the film as it moves from New York to New Orleans to Buenos Aires fully aware that the premise planted early in the film is destined to show up once again.

Indeed, it does.

Focus suffers from much the same as did Crazy, Stupid, Love, the last film from co-writers/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa in that it starts off with a stylistic and substantial bang only to fizzle out before everything's over. Simultaneously nonsensical yet fun to watch, with a little more focus Focus could have been the blockbuster that Smith desperately needs it to be.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic  

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