Friday, July 3, 2015

I rent, I watch, I review: FOCUS

It's a real shame about "Focus." In a lot of ways, this is an interesting film. You have Will Smith in his first starring role since the 2013 disaster that is "After Earth." Margot Robbie in her first big role since "Wolf of Wall Street." They play romantic interests in "Focus," which is a little creepy given that Will Smith is 22 years older than Robbie. But, since the movie originally plays out like a mentor/apprentice-type deal, I guess it's ok? At any rate, what I've noticed about Margot Robbie is she seemingly can build chemistry with anyone. It's been awhile since I've seen Will Smith try his hand at romance and you get the sense that even he can't ignore how sexy Margot Robbie is. She's just that radiant.

And this is perhaps Will Smith's most interesting role since, um, "The Pursuit of Happyness"? Man, it's been awhile since done anything really worthwhile. It's been awhile since he's been in an R-rated movie for crying out loud. He plays a professional con man who finds himself showing Margot Robbie's character the ropes. They get romantically involved until Nicky (Will Smith) abruptly puts Jess (Robbie) in a car on the way to an airport with $80,000.

Three years later, Nicky and Jess have been separated and estranged. Until, Nicky bumps into her in Buenos Aires. He's pulling some tricks on an owner of a Argentinian soccer team and the owner happens to be romantically involed with Jess. Or so it seems. Or maybe Jess is playing him. Or playing Nicky. Or maybe Nicky is conning Jess. Or, ahhhhh.... who knows?

Unfortunately, "Focus" loses its sharpness once we're in Buenos Aires. The movie's in a groove for the first hour with Nicky teaching Jess the ropes and bringing her in with his con-men friends. Their partnership culminates in a pretty intense betting duel between Nicky and a rich Chinese man named Liyuan (BD Wong). It had been hinted at that Nicky had a bit of a gambling problem and the scene features Nicky and Liyuan betting on all kinds of shit while watching the Super Bowl. First, they're betting $1,000. Soon, it's $50,000. And shortly after, why not $1.1 million? And what first appears to be a serious gambling problem on Nicky's behalf ultimately turns into a con. The movie cons the viewer, in turn.

But that's where the fun ends. "Focus" comes to a grinding halt in Argentina as it features Nicky performing mostly solo and pining after Jess. Or, so we think. Or, whatever. "Focus" gets too wrapped up in the con that there's really nothing substantial to hold onto with this film. At a certain point, when none of your characters have a genuine, honest moment, there are no longer any stakes. We're no longer invested in Nicky's gambling problem because it turned out not to be a problem. We can't really invest in Nicky/Jess because they might just be conning each other. Ordinarily, watching them con each other would be fun, but writer/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa cease having fun with any of this.

As a result, "Focus" just winds up feeling dry and flavorless. It just completely loses steam by the end. The twists and turns stop mattering once the movie stops being enjoyable. In other words, "Focus" loses focus at the end, completely derailing anything that made the film seem promising initially. And yes, I feel like a jackass for typing that previous sentence. Oh well!

Grade: C

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