Will Smith returns in his first starring role in nearly three years. But don’t “focus” on the plot too much.
Focus tells the story of Nicky (Will Smith), a con artist who heads a ring of con artists/thieves who hit up big public events like the Super Bowl or March Madness. They quickly hit all of the tourists in town for the big game. Nicky doesn’t play the long con, he looks for quantity.
In a chance meeting with Jess (Margot Robbie), an amateur con artist, there’s a spark between them. She tracks Nicky down where he’s doing his next con and begs to join his crew. It doesn’t take much to convince Nicky as she seems to have a knack for it.
At this point, I was really digging the movie. It had an Ocean’s Eleven style to it. The cast is likeable and attractive despite some odd raunchy humor that felt out of place. I was intrigued, trying to guess what the twist would be or who might con who.
Soon, we find out that despite Jess’ seemingly clear talents, she’s in fact being used the entire time. Not conned, but simply used. This is where the movie heads downhill. It starts itself off like it’s about the cld con artist with a killer smile who finally falls for a girl only to learn he’s just as cold as he’s always been. Maybe losing the girl hurts him even though he’s doing it for his crew and the money. We don’t know, but the movie jumps forward a few years and it seems like Nicky is broken. Or is he?
But nothing is at all like it seems.
And this usually wouldn’t feel odd for a movie about con artists, except for as an audience member I felt conned. If you think about the plot for a moment after it’s all over, you quickly realize how scenes are there just to trick us. They aren’t character moments. They’re trick moments. Early on there’s a scene where Nicky is gambling. No character is seeing him gamble. He actually doesn’t have a gambling problem. The scene is just there to make us believe he has a gambling problem for a later con. It feels forced instead of organic to the characters and story. It comes across like the screenwriter decided this, not the character.
It’s sad because everyone involved with the project is so likeable. It’s always hard to resist Will Smith when he puts that movie star swagger on. Margot Robbie is slowly becoming a star and the supporting cast is solid as well. Even the two directors, Glenn Ficarra and John Riqua, who previously direct Crazy, Stupid, Love, which I quite liked, just can’t pull everything together no matter how hard they try. It’s a bummer.
Welcome back, Big Willie. Next time choose a stronger script.