2015, R, 105 min. Directed by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa. Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, Adrian Martinez, BD Wong, Gerald McRaney.
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., March 6, 2015
This con artist caper from the writer/director duo behind Bad Santa and I Love You Philip Morris bears some superficial resemblance to the 2005 romantic comedy Hitch. Will Smith stars in both as a sensei of sorts, dispensing advice he himself forgets to follow when he meets an exceptional beauty; only here, his protégé and the woman who rattles his reserve are one and the same.
Smith’s Nicky is a cautious con man – now there’s a fun twist – who runs his rackets like a circumspect small-business owner, providing regular employment and equal spoils to his ace team of blackmailers, cutpurses, and money launderers. When his team sets up camp in New Orleans to pillage tourists in town for the Super Bowl, he takes Jess (Robbie, the breakout from 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street) into his tutelage. She’s a sly pickpocket, and he likes her moxie, as well as her “boobs.” (Smith’s secret weapon is that he doesn’t stifle his inner goober.) As lovers, Smith and Robbie have decent chemistry; as bickerers, they’re dynamite. And character actor Adrian Martinez, as the team’s malcontent computer wiz, injects a welcome weird energy.
The trick of the con genre is to con the audience, too, and it’s sometimes not clear until the credits roll if a script is engined by misdirection or just muzzy plotting. Focus has some hard swallows, including a last-reel speech so inessential it’s comical, but it’s also got a unique syncopation about it that’s admirable, if not entirely effective.