Like the many con artist tales before it, Focus is filled to the brim with twists and turns and diversions that constantly keep you guessing. In the best of these genre tales, you leave marveling at how the con was pulled and it manages to hold up under close inspection. That’s not really the case in this movie. There are surprises to be had for sure and some don’t really make a lick of sense.
Therefore it’s a bonus to have beautiful and talented stars like Will Smith and Margot Robbie starring and lovely scenery in Buenos Aires to entertain our eyes. They play a pair of con artists whose resumes differ tremendously. Nicky (Smith) is a pro with a team of people under him whose family lineage consists of those who share the profession. Jess (Robbie) is just getting started in the business and her experience as we open consists mostly of picking pockets. The two form an alliance in every sense imaginable and he takes her under his wing. Yet his sense of not getting too close to anyone puts a sudden stop to their romantic and professional partnership.
Flash forward to three years later where our leads finally see each other again in Buenos Aires. Nicky is working for a billionaire race car owner (Rodrigo Santoro) whose enlisted his help to fix a competition. Jess is dating him. Of course, as is tradition in these pictures, nothing is really as it seems and there are twists aplenty.
Focus doesn’t add anything new to this well worn genre. It manages to coast amiably on the charms of Smith and Robbie. It’s worth noting that our Fresh Prince is quite a bit more subdued than normal. he acquits himself just fine and has solid chemistry with the game Robbie, who we first noticed in her terrific performance in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street.
Gerald McRaney (TV’s Major Dad!) is the bad guy’s head of security whose character provides one of the more head scratching surprises, but the performance itself is solid. Adrian Martinez provides some entertaining comic relief as one of Nicky’s employees and B.D. Wong is fun in a cleverly constructed con scheme sequence set at the Super Bowl.
Simply put, there’s nothing very special or unique to see here in Focus and the more serious tone shift in the third act is jarring. Luckily the actors do enough here to keep your attention in… well, you know the rest.
*** (out of four)