Movies about con men almost always tend to get a little too cute for their own good. They start to fall in love with the crosses and the double-crosses to the point all the fun and personality gets sucked right out of the film.
“Focus” avoids those traps and delivers an entertaining, smart, sexy, stylish time while freeing Will Smith to be his charming, confident self — something he strangely hasn’t been onscreen in a long time.
Smith plays Nicky, a top-of-his-game con-artist who leads a sticky-fingered crew of merry men and women who show up at big events like the Super Bowl and show off their finely-honed skills as pickpockets and scammers.
Eager to join the crew is Jess, a young, up-and-coming criminal played by the distractingly hot Margot Robbie, who looks as if she sprung fully formed from a sentient version of Photoshop.
Robbie is the Australian actress probably best known for playing DiCaprio’s occasionally-clothed wife in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Here, she shows she’s got a little bit more going on as she holds her own in a flirt-off with Smith and effortlessly lifts watches off of unsuspecting tourists.
The first half of “Focus” is close to flawless as it slickly delivers laughs and tense set pieces that more than pay off.
Things get a little sloppier in the movie’s second half, where the film resets and a plot unfolds surrounding a wealthy racecar owner (Rodrigo Santoro) and his right-hand thug (the great Gerald McRaney). The plot holes become a little more noticeable and the gears and cogs start to show, but the movie has built up so much goodwill by this point, it is easy to forgive for not sticking the landing.
“Focus” is helmed by the writer/director duo of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who delivered the enjoyable “I Love You Phillip Morris” and “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” which started strong then turned out to be a crazy, stupid mess.
Even with a .500 batting average, they seem to have things figured out as they deliver their best effort yet by keeping the glossy proceedings moving nimbly through all the screenplay’s twists and turns.
This is a decently acted movie with a solid supporting cast. Adrian Martinez stands out as Farhad, one of Nicky’s foul-mouthed, scene-stealing accomplices.
But when all is said and done, this is a Will Smith movie and it’s good to see him back in a movie like this. In the past few years, he’s either been peddling sequels like “Men in Black 3” or showing restraint in clunky misfires (the less said about “After Earth” the better).
Smith bounces through this movie, conning us all with his smile and ease and selling every ounce of this movie.
Smith is a movie star in the classic sense of the term and he really doesn’t have any business chasing awards. He’s gotten back to doing what he does best and that is entertaining the holy hell out of America. It’s good to have the prince back on his throne.
“Focus” is rated R for language, some sexual content, and brief violence.