There’s a lot of money stolen, exchanged and gambled in Focus, a con artist feature that’s kind of a drama, sort of a comedy at times, and mostly functional without ever being memorable. I doubt anyone will get bored by it, but I also doubt you’ll be quoting it weeks later or contemplating the more intricate aspects of it’s performances. It’s the kind of movie that’s born to be sold for five dollars at your local Kroger, but that doesn’t mean Focus is without it’s distinctive charms.
The primary aspect of the film that leaps out to me as a positive quality is it’s look. The feature has a penchant for bird’s eye views of the stories various environments (such as New York City or a fancy gala) that are just brimming with color. A wide number of the movies sets just pop off the screen, and frankly, there’s numerous points where the memorable backgrounds are far more engaging than a number of the conversation that the characters in Focus engage in.
The screenplay by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (the duo, who helmed 2011’s Crazy Stupid Love also direct this particular film) gives Focus a pretty simple story; a widely known con man named Nicky (played by Will Smith, whose character is also known by the nickname Mellow, short for marshmallow), whose enormous presence and financially beneficial thievery attracts the eye of Jess (Margot Robbie), who wants in on the cons pulled off by Nicky and his crew. The rest of the plot mainly hinges on Nicky and Jess, which becomes a serious problem once it becomes apparent the two don’t have that much depth to them.
Jess is particularly underdeveloped, she doesn’t seem to receive any sort of nuance during the duration of the film (she’s an orphan and dyslexic are the only elements of her background we the audience receive), which seems like a waste of Margot Robbie, an up-and-coming actress who was one of the best parts of 2013’s The Wolf Of Wall Street. It doesn’t help that Jess goes from being a flawed pick pocket to an expert crook in no time flat, which just feels like a really bizarre storytelling choice.
While Nicky at least lets Will Smith play things with more humor and life than the actors last leading role (After Earth, remember that?), there’s still not much to the guy aside from daddy issues and an ability to steal objects, like a purse or a ring, from Jess in a sneaky fashion primarily thanks to some funky editing. Smith and Robbie do have some fun chemistry in their scenes together, but once the plot hinges solely on these two characters, their underdeveloped personalities become all the more apparent, and as a result, plot twists in the films climax that are intended to be impactful just fall flat.
All that being said, there’s still some moments of fun in here, a couple of humorous moments, and like I said, this movies an eye candy smorgasbord. I wish the editing of the movie (done by Jan Kovac) was similarly successful, with a moment or two of success, like a transition from daytime to nighttime in Nicky’s apartment, mixed in with some surprisingly shoddy moments. There’s even a moment where the audio of Nicky’s dialogue clearly doesn’t match his lips. It’s a weird moment, but at least it’s memorable, which is more than can be said for the majority of Focus, which mainly settles for being an average, if pretty looking, cinematic experience