Yes it’s been a long cold winter — but let’s not focus on that– how about a movie to pull our focus so that we don’t even notice! Which brings me to FOCUS starring one of the world’s biggest box office stars WILL SMITH and gorgeous Aussie MARGOT ROBBIE, who left the wolves howling on Wall Street opposite Leo DiCaprio. Here she leaves enough of her clothes on to warrant a tame “R” rating, but enough of them off to knock Will’s character off his game and out of his mind.
Here’s the gig. He’s “Nicky” nick-named “Mellow,” an experienced con man who spots, Jess, a con-wannabe, working the room and a poor schnook at the bar who actually thinks he’s got a chance at cracking her safe. Turns out Jess has her eye on the tall, dark, handsome stranger who’s sitting alone at a nearby table–Nicky. She saunters over asking for cover, they flirt, talk, end up in her room, and.. well, the trailer ruins that scene for us. She’s out to boost his wallet and he busts her, leaving her hungry for more.
So he gives her a smoothly choreographed tutorial in picking pockets a person doesn’t even know they have. (I may never move through a crowd again unless all my belongings are gaffer-taped to my body.) He eventually takes her on as an “intern,” and introduces her to his “boost team” who move through sparkling, crowded events– Mardi Gras, big Superdome football games–like invisible scavengers, sucking up whatever isn’t nailed down. It’s the low rent version of Ocean’s 12; no one big heist– just volume and a 50 way split.
The film moves through a series suspenseful set pieces, especially one wildly tense scene involving B.D Wong as a high rolling gambler that leaves you wondering who’s conning whom. Beware the power of subliminal suggestion and the virtues of “the blind mouse.” Robbie is tantalizing bait, acts up a storm, moves easily from comedy to emotional drama, photographs like a dream, is relatable and has good chemistry with Smith. In fact, she steals every scene from Will who’s a tad glum here. I kept waiting for some big character reveal. Never happened.
I also kept looking for the con within the con, you know, when the movie cons us. I was fooled a few times– loved it. Nicky and Jess, of course, start to fall in love– or do they? I didn’t see the end coming exactly, but the seeds are planted. Too bad the payoff is so confusing and the rhythm of the last moments are off. The denouement makes us go back over the movie to recalibrate and at least one scene in hindsight doesn’t quite make sense.
But FOCUS has a glossy surface, wealth, money, and power on display, no ugly violence, no pointless sex and nudity, no bathroom jokes, so maybe we won’t quite notice it all doesn’t quite add up to a coherent film. It’s at least an entertaining con on a cold March night until I can focus on Spring for real.