Will Smith and Margot Robbie star in this rather disappointing con artist film which attempts to Focus more on romance than the sleight of hand
Will Smith (After Earth, Men in Black films) plays Nicky Spurgeon, an experienced con artist who's in the "safer volume business" of pickpocketing and scamming. After meeting Jess Barrett (played by the hot Margot Robbie from The Wolf of Wall Street) in her own larceny attempt, Nicky accept her as an apprentice and intern in his team of swindles, teaching her the trade and the skills required to be femme fatale. After just a few jobs in a short period time, Nicky abandons her and vanishes despite being romantically involved with her. Coincidentally, they bumped into each other again three years later in a different country where Nicky is on to a bigger heist than ever before.
Written and directed by the duo Glenn Ficara and John Requa who brought us great romance comedies like I Love You Phillip Morris (2009) and Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), it's very surprising how disappointing Focus turns out to be. Well, actually, I was sort of already expecting it after watching its trailers. Imagine the Hong Kong gambling and conman crime comedies by like Wong Jing's The Conmen in Vegas (1999) meets Hollywood's Ocean's 11 (2001) or the more recent award-winning American Hustle (2013) and a bit of Inception (2011) but without the same level of humour, creativity, writing or execution. Set with its own code of living and dying by the lie/scam, Focus can be quite intriguing and not entirely predictable with its deceptions and tricks. It does have the suspense to make the audience wonder if the characters are up to something else or if he/she is a traitor, etc. However, the film offers nothing new to the table and closes its curtain after a very unrewarding final third.
What the film fails most is to make the premise and the characters more convincing and engaging. The sleight-of-hand skills aren't taught or shown in detailed, instead these pickpocketing "action" mostly choreographed nicely to impress only through teamwork misdirection and item-passing. It would've been a lot of believable if there's just a small scene to show how they remove a watch with one hand, but unfortunately, even the scene where Nicky is teaching his apprentice, the action is outside of the camera's shot. Realistically, by the way, just how many rings, watches and wallets are that easy to steal from passersby, each in a matter of split seconds? There's a scene that suggests 100% of randomly targeted victims on a street can be easily pickpocketed. I rest my case.
The tone of the film is mostly dry or intense, with a rushed pacing. The humour is flat (Will Smith really can't deliver jokes with a more serious character), the funniest moments are all delivered by Farhad (Adrian Martinez), the typical fat friend character who only has lines in like 4 scenes. Smith and Robbie gave a faultless performance for their poorly written roles while all other characters are sidelined. Due to that, it doesn't make me care about any of the characters. There is only one good gripping scene where Nicky suddenly goes out of his behaviour and gambles a lot of money against a wealthy Asian man named Liyuan (BD Wong) in various bets, but even the deceit and thrill of that scene relies on the Inception concept, lack of character development and a blatant foreshadowing that could only work on audiences who would leave their brains at the door.
The romance between Nicky and Jess is so underdeveloped, it feels as though they're "in love" with each other only because of money (for Jess) and sex (for Nicky). As cliched as it may sound, wouldn't the film be more fun if they were actually going against each other scamming the same target, and then in the process, fall in love for real? The ending gives the impression that the film wasn't completed as it should've been as it feels as though the show ends halfway without an exciting climax, a bigger twist or even an earned moral victory. A lousy cheesy speech and a happily-ever-after walk to the hospital as the credits roll, that's it.
Simply put, Focus is neither satisfying as a conman comedy nor a romance drama. With a handsome $100 million budget, Hong Kong probably could've made a far more entertaining and meaningful film of this genre. Just don't hire the current Wong Jing to write or direct the script.
What I would've named the film: "Conman 2015: From New Orleans to Buenos Aires"
Malaysia censorship: Nothing seemed to be cut at the press screening held at TGV 1 Utama. Quite a few f-bombs and makeout to pre-sex scenes but Margot Robbie doesn't go nude here like in The Wolf of Wallstreet.
Second opinion: To my girlfriend, it was "quite interesting".
Verdict: Basically a Hollywood take on Hong Kong conman films but without the senseless fun and attempt to satisfy, primarily Focusing on a forced romance between two poorly developed characters.
Rating: 2 / 5
Genre: Crime, romance
Running Time: 104 minutes
Directors-writers: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro
Malaysia Release Date: 26 February 2015
Local Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures Malaysia
Production: Zaftig Films, Di Novi Pictures, Kramer & Sigman Films, Overbrook Entertainment
Follow me and stay tuned for more updates: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | Google+