Sunday, March 1, 2015

Review: Focus

Image courtesy of Warner Bros.
It's nice to see Will Smith the Movie Star back after a series of not-so-great vehicles for his talents, including the overwrought "Seven Pounds," the forgettable "Men in Black 3" and the just-plain awful "After Earth." In "Focus," he gets to play the type of smooth operator he portrayed in "Hitch," but in a role that leans a little more on drama than comedy. That's not to say his work in the film is much of a stretch, but it's nice to see Smith appear once again in a film where he seems to be having a good time.

His character, Nicky Spurgeon, is a con man who excels both at the short con and the long game and he uses his skills to school a young woman named Jess (Margot Robbie, of "The Wolf of Wall Street"), who wants in on the action. The first half of the picture is cool and breezy as Nicky and his crew, which now includes Jess, travel to New Orleans and pickpocket, swindle and bamboozle folks during Mardi Gras. Their targets range from average Joes on the street to high roller gamblers.

On the one hand, it's difficult to believe that Nicky and company could be quite as good as they purport - and one particular con involving a famous Rolling Stones song, among other things, is a bit preposterous. And yet, it works because the film moves at a clip and the cast makes the characters believable even when the script takes absurd turns.

After their big con in New Orleans, three years pass, during which Nicky and Jess do not see each other. They both turn up in Buenos Aires, where Nicky is working with a wealthy - and potentially - dangerous man who invests in race cars, has a crew of heavies on staff and with whom, as it turns out, Jess is romantically involved. Coincidence? Take a guess.

Nicky and Jess get in over their heads and there are a few plot twists that will likely not surprise you as the film progresses toward its finale, which includes one twist I doubt you'll see coming.

There have been numerous con artist pictures over the years, including some very good ones ("Matchstick Men") and a handful of great ones ("The Grifters" and "House of Games)." "Focus" doesn't stack up against those films, but it's good entertainment. And while Smith has yet to make the film that will act as a reminder as to why he was once one of Hollywood's A-listers, this picture, at least, is a good start.

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