In need of a hit and some restored lustre, Will Smith here doubles down with the kind of old-school-vibe con movie that lives or dies on its star's charisma. Only he's not the star that saves it...
Smith plays Nicky, a veteran con artist who takes upstart Jess (Margot Robbie) under his wing, only for things to get... complicated. Years pass, the plot belatedly kicking in when Nicky works a scam in the F1 world – a world in which Jess is also entangled.
What initially intrigues about Focus is that it seems a mite grubbier than con flicks of yore, from The Sting to Catch Me If You Can. The first half sees Nicky introduce Jess to the glamorous gentleman thief practice of… pickpocketing drunk tourists in New Orleans. We could have had a tougher film where these antics are interrogated – the writing/directing team wrote Bad Santa – but it feels having a megastar on board shaved these edges off.
So how does Smith do? Mixed fortunes: he regularly breaks out the charm that made him one of the '90s/'00s biggest box-office draws – but he also reverts to the tetchy persona we saw much too much of in the likes of After Earth; a bit of a problem when you need your hero to be likeable enough to excuse his crimes and misdemeanours.
Good job, then, that Robbie gets virtually the same screen time – and uses it to more than justify her breakout star status. With the story fit to burst with an Ocean's trilogy worth of hustles, tricks and grifts (some of them smart, others groan-inducing), at least Robbie is the genuine article – sharing playful chemistry with Smith, but ultimately stealing the movie from right under his nose.
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