In the tricky, sexy, glam Focus, Will Smith plays a seasoned con artist and grifter who takes under his wing an eager novice (Margot Robbie from The Wolf of Wall Street), hipping her to the ins and outs of how to get away with rolling New Orleans tourists on Super Bowl Sunday. Turns out that she’s a quick study, so their cons and sleight-of-hand get trickier, classier and the stakes get higher but, despite their better judgment, the two get way too close for comfort.
Smith abruptly leaves his protégée flat and the action picks up years later when Robbie, romantically involved with a suave Latin playboy and Formula One superstar (Rodrigo Santoro), has graduated to a first-class huckster. Smith, always looking for the big score, hatches an intricate scheme to steal a fortune out of the Buenos Aires Grand Prix and you can pretty much guess how that’s going to work out.
We’ve seen stylish chicanery before in movies like Now Your See Me, Catch Me If You Can, the Ocean’s Eleven movies, let alone vintage stuff like 1932’s brilliant Ernst Lubitsch classic Trouble In Paradise, and the ‘60s The Thomas Crown Affair (the theme song of which “The Windmills of Your Mind” gets played three times in Focus). Focus, as written and directed by the talented Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love; I Love You Phillip Morris), doesn’t aim to be any deeper than one of those posh fancy-perfume commercials starring Charlize Theron. It’s all about beautiful sports cars driven by beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes in beautiful places. No harm there. But when you know you’re watching a plot built on regularly occurring scams and switchbacks — more than a few of them highly predictable — it’s tough to build up much investment in the characters or their romance.
So Smith and the gorgeous, charming, scratchy-voiced Robbie (who looks great from any angle) do their best to turn up that old movie style-star charisma. They mostly score but in the end, it’s Robbie who schools old Teflon-esque smoothie Smith in the art of pocketing every scene she’s in. Her only real competition comes from BD Wong, who spectacularly plays a quirky zillionaire with a recklessly competitive streak, and Gerald McRaney as a shark-eyed security director. Focus, nicely filmed and very competent, delivers come snappy dialogue and fizzy, forgettable fun. ***