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05 Mar 2015

A Star Is Born: Margot Robbie Steals Conman Film 'Focus' From Will Smith

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Margot Robbie and Will Smith in Focus. Margot Robbie and Will Smith in Focus.

It’s been a couple of years since Will Smith and his mopey kid inflicted After Earth upon us. Still, Smith has to eat, so it stands to reason he’s making movies again, even if his once-adoring public is a little gun-shy at this point.

Focus is a relatively small movie for Smith—it’s a semi-standard conman film that allows him to utilize his wisecracker persona. It does a good job making Smith likable again, even if he is playing a lying scumbag.

Nicky (Smith) is enjoying a fine meal at his hotel one night when Jess (Margot Robbie), who must be the hottest girl on God’s green Earth (plus all of the icy and desert parts, too), sits at his table.

This starts a movie-long relationship between the conman and the conwoman wannabe. Nicky co-runs a thievery ring that specializes in little scams and robberies; he claims that the smaller stuff adds up. Jess, his trainee with a perfect touch when it comes to lifting watches, craves the “big sting.” Nicky wants nothing to do with that.

Or does he?

The first half of the movie is actually quite good, as we see Nicky showing Jess the ropes and battling an urge to gamble. His gambling addiction leads to a high-stakes game of WTF? as Nicky squares off with a cigar-chomping BD Wong at a football game: Wong’s character overhears Nicky and Jess doing some small-time bets regarding the game, and he wants in. Needless to say, the stakes go very high.

The second half of the film goes a little off course as Nicky goes to work for racecar mogul Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro) involving some sort of speed-reducing scheme. Gerald McRaney shows up as a grouchy bodyguard, and he helps to elevate the material.

The scams in this film—even the simple pickpocket stuff—are all outrageous to the point of implausibility. It also doesn’t help that Smith’s character is a selfish liar, and as a result, every big reveal is neither surprising nor clever—he’s clearly bullshitting all of the time. Still, the scams are somewhat fun to watch at times, even if they are a bit too nutty to take seriously.

The main reason to see the movie would be Robbie, who is taking the movie world by storm. She absolutely stunned in Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street, and she is lined up to play Harley Quinn in the upcoming Suicide Squad (alongside Smith and Jared Leto). At just 24 years old, she’s one of the more interesting up-and-comers in Hollywood.

Will Smith is a solid second-best reason to see Focus. His role shows off his humorous, fast-talking side that was glaringly absent from After Earth and Seven Pounds. (He did have a funny cameo in Anchorman 2, and Men in Black 3 was OK.) His recent stinkers had me forgetting that I usually like his movies. It’s good to see him back in decent form.

The film is co-directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the team responsible for Crazy, Stupid, Love. and the vastly underrated Jim Carrey vehicle I Love You Phillip Morris. In some ways, Focus is their least-engaging venture yet, which says a lot about their abilities, because it’s still good. Next up for them is be the wartime comedy Fun House—starring Robbie.

As a conman movie, this one falls way short of films like The Sting, but is much better than crap like Now You See Me. As for Will Smith films, it also falls somewhere in the middle. As for Robbie … well, she steals the movie, lifting that sucker right off of Will Smith’s unsuspecting wrist.

Focus is playing at theaters across the valley.

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