2015-03-13 14:18

What it's about:

After Jess Barrett's attempt to rip off Nicky Spurgeon - who turns out to be a master conman himself -  fails spectacularly, Jess and Nicky soon find themselves entangled in a relationship, both romantic and professional, that is constantly undermined and complicated by a game of cat and mouse (or is that catch and release?) that may just prove that there's no honour among thieves after all. Or is there?

What we thought:

Harking back to the light crime capers of the past, Focus plays out like a mix of the Sting and Oceans Eleven, with a bit of Intolerable Cruelty thrown in for good measure, but it never really lives up to its obvious influences and predecessors. That it's shallow and ultimately forgettable pretty much comes with the territory, but it's ultimately undone by, ironically enough, a lack of focus.

This isn't to say that there isn't anything to enjoy here. Focus is slickly made, well acted and generally just about entertaining enough. While Margot Robbie and Will Smith offer plenty in the way of eye candy for both the boys and the girls, they also turn in basically likeable performances – even if the material itself isn't exactly challenging. Smith, in particular, is back on solid, in unspectacular form, after being so utterly rubbish in the ghastly After Earth. Best of all, though, are Major Dad himself, Gerald McRaney, who is clearly having the time of his life playing the film's biggest badass and Rodrigo Santoro who makes the very best of what could easily have been an underdeveloped sidekick role.

There are also a number of very enjoyable set pieces along the way. Jess and Nick's first meeting, for example, is a lot of fun and very quickly establishes their undeniable chemistry (which is just as well as they're soon teaming up again in DC Comics' Suicide Squad movie) and snappy rapport, that forms the heart of the film itself. If there is one scene, though, that is almost entirely worth the price of admission by itself, it's a high-stakes gambling scene that happens at the Superbowl between Nicky and a wealthy Japanese businessman, with Jess looking on in abject horror. It's a tense, exciting and expertly crafted bit of slick and smart (if not entirely believable) entertainment that shows just how far off the mark much of the rest of the film is.

It's especially problematic that both of these scenes occur early on because not only does the remaining two-thirds of the film pale badly in comparison, most of its biggest weaknesses only really show up after the high of these early set pieces. Effectively, this means that the elation and sharp entertainment of the early parts of the film are undermined completely by an increasing sense of disappointment. It's easy enough to pinpoint exactly where the film goes off the rails as there's a two-year time jump to mark the occasion.

The post-time-jump parts of the film (which sadly take up most of the running time) are herky-jerkily paced, tonally all over the place and the slick, jubilant entertainment (and sense of humour) of the film's opening quickly gives way to a sense of tiredness and oddly placed melancholy. We do get Gerald McRaney doing his thing fortunately and there are still a number of OK-ish twists and turns to come but the fun is largely gone.

Also because the film constantly tries to play with the audience's expectations, as all decent con-artist films do, the emotional attachment to the characters and their shifting relationships is undone by the constant awareness that the carpet is about to be pulled from under us again and that any and all character development and emotional resonance feels like just another slight of hand trick. This does not exactly chime well with the later part of the film's many, many “dramatic” scenes.  

Considering how much movies cost these days, this advice might seem a bit ridiculous, but if you really want to enjoy Focus – and, for that matter, be left feeling satisfied, rather than hopelessly disappointed by what you just watch, I highly recommend checking out the first forty-or-so minutes of the film and then leaving just as the words "two years later" turn up on screen. You won't really be getting your money's worth but at least you won't have to deal with the disappointment of yet another Will Smith movie letting you down.

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