After I left the theater for the film Focus, the first question I asked myself was who was this movie made for? This is an impressive fact considering the countless questions I could’ve asked afterwards that would’ve torn this movie’s plot to shreds. With many bad movies I can at least give them the credit of being for a niche audience, I can at least place it within a genre. Focus is so flavorless and forgettable that I can’t even point out a group of people who could go see this. I’ve seen worse films but the somewhat serviceable soundtrack and directing is being used for a project that I think is even too underwhelming for most mainstream audiences.
Nicky Spurgeon (wow I just realized how stupid that name sounds) is a talented con-artist working all around the world. He starts to mentor an inexperienced con-artist named Jess (Margot Robbie) and they eventually fall in love. After some time, Nicky finds himself in an eventual con that could be potentially worth millions of dollars.
The heist genre can be extremely charming and clever if done right. To do this right it often requires energy, wit and a generally smart writer. Grading Focus on achieving this, the only people who are cheated are the audience. The movie covers itself in one of my all-time personal pet peeves in cinema. You set up this big mystery involving a crime or a magic trick and then the explanation you give for how it happened is unbelievably over the top and preposterous because you can’t think of anything that is actually intelligent. Doing this is kind of like sawing a woman in half, putting her back together and then explaining that that happened because the woman cut in half was in fact an indestructible alien. You can certainly make that the explanation but it makes you look a moron. There’s nothing to be earned for trying to solve or follow the films mystery because everything is going to be explained in the cheapest way possible.
Every trick that goes on in Focus is explained in that ludicrous manner. There’s no wit to anything that’s going on, it’s all lazy, plot hole ridden excuses that are supposed to compensate for the lack of wit in its screenwriters. Just because of a plot involving con artists, don’t believe for a second that this is a smart movie. This is more like the version of smart defined by the lowest common denominator. So much crazy, loopy twists happen in the last 15 minutes that it’s impossible to takes its characters seriously. Why should I care about any of the story if it’s all leading up to very obvious gotcha moments? It doesn’t help that none of the characters are that sympathetic or likable in the first place. The villains, the heroes, the comedic relief and the henchman are all set to average.
The character of Nicky is basically Will Smith playing himself. There are no layers to the character beside the charisma of Smith. As far as Will Smith’s acting, it’s okay but he’s nowhere near good enough to make the movie rise above its laziness and ridiculousness. It doesn’t even look like he cared during this as much as he has for other movies in his past. The only time this performance looks impressive is when compared to his performance in his previous big movie After Earth.
I hate to say this because she does seem like a talented actress but Margot Robbie is basically playing a died down, less impressive version of the character she already played in The Wolf of Wall Street. She’s there to look pretty and provide the most minimal chemistry possible with Will Smith’s character. I thought she was great in The Wolf of Wall Street and I’d like to see her not fall into bland roles like this one.
I should also give some credit to the villain henchman Bucky Owens for being the winner of worst character in the film. He is throughout the most stereotypical racist old man character you can think of and Gerald McRaney delivers the lines with zero subtlety. And without spoiling it, the twist involving him in the end takes the cake for awful explanations for deep mysteries. It’s so impossible and far fetched that I openly laughed in the theater at how terrible it was.
The only real credit I can give this movie is that technically the movie is fine and I actually dug the soundtrack they made. There are even glimpses throughout where you think the movie is going to try to be realistic and witty in the first act but once it goes off the rails, it goes off the rails. I mildly enjoyed a scene done from the perspective of another henchman but it has been done better in the past.
I return to my original question, who was this made for? It’s not particularly exciting or funny. There’s no real genre that this either belongs to or succeeds at. The characters are instantly forgettable along with the performances of its two leads. The supposed mental game you’re supposed to be playing here is obvious, BS and trickery on the part of its writers. This is a movie so watered down in what it’s trying to be that it doesn’t feel like anything. There are way worse movies I’ve seen in the past but this is a movie so lame that I think even most audiences will walk away uninspired. Focus is a movie I can’t recommend anyone to go see. If you want a movie like this, stay home and watch Ocean’s Eleven. Which version of the movie you may ask? It doesn’t really matter; they’re both smarter and more entertaining movies than this one.
Release Date: 2/27/2015
Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro and Gerald McRaney
Directed by: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Screenplay by: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa