Film / Reviews

Will Smith gets under a waterfall of money in 'Focus'

by Kaori Shoji

Special To The Japan Times

Will Smith rarely smiles when he isn’t running around in a “Men in Black” film. Which is a shame, because comedy and Smith seem like a natural match, especially when he is paired with Tommy Lee Jones, his trusted curmudgeon buddy in the MIB series.

In “Focus” there’s no Tommy Lee but you’ll see Smith laugh, emote and even engage in a love affair or two. The dude even has brunch at the Hyatt and, overall, Smith seems to be relaxed and enjoying himself, which is more than you can say about his last few vehicles since “Men in Black 3.” Case in point: “Winter’s Tale,” in which Smith plays a sour, deadpan Lucifer who scares the daylights out of Russell Crowe’s mumbly demon. Not fun.

It seems he has found another partner, albeit one who bears no earthly resemblance to Jones — no wonder Smith is smiling.

Focus
Rating
Run Time 105 mins
Language English, spanish (subtitled in Japanese)
Opens May 1

Written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, “Focus” is gorgeous to look at and sweet on the palate, like a piece of candy you want to roll in your palm before popping in your mouth. A huge part of that is due to the ultra-glorious looks and on-screen sheen sported by Margot Robbie, who’s clearly channeling Grace Kelly or Kim Novak. The other parts are due to the all the visible wealth: hotel suites, cars, wardrobe, jewelry, French cuisine and the actual wads of cash flung about in almost every scene.

“Focus” is a con movie and, as such, takes huge liberties with money. It’s as if no one involved had ever heard of the word “austerity.” Take that, Angela Merkel.

The snag here is that the plot isn’t terribly original; in fact, it borrows heavily from classics like “The Sting,” “The Grifters” and “The Thomas Crown Affair” to name just a few. Still, when you consider that one of the objectives of the con genre is to elevate the act of pilfering to a form of museum-level art, it seems a matter of course that “Focus” should steal from the greats. Too bad that Ficarra and Requa didn’t bother with depicting back stories or flesh out the characters with a scene or two where they were struggling with hard times — it’s pretty much plain sailing and raking in cash every step of the way. Though, on occasion, Smith does his best to resemble a sentimental schmuck who let the love of his life get away while losing the cash equivalent of a governmental defense budget (not saying which government), don’t let him fool you.

From the get-go, Smith comes out on top as con man Nicky.

In the opening sequence, Nicky is in a hotel having dinner when he gets hit on by a stunning blonde named Jess (Robbie). It’s not long before they’re rolling around on her hotel bed, but in walks her “husband” brandishing a gun and demanding compensation. In a matter of seconds Nicky has disarmed him and is giving the scamming pair a lecture on how to do this right (the secret is getting the victim’s pants down before getting him on the bed).

Jess is awed, and she may even be in love, though it’s hard to read what Nicky himself is thinking. The relationship stalls at first, then blooms in New Orleans during a huge football event (apparently, the film couldn’t get the license to use the words “Super Bowl”) where Nicky reveals his next con to Jess, which runs with militant efficiency and involves deploying an army of thieves and pickpockets.

Interestingly, Nicky shows himself to be as committed and hardworking as any loyal salaryman. Even more intriguing is the fact that, when you calculate the number of hours he puts in and the amount of people on his payroll, Nicky’s hourly wage isn’t all that spectacular. But that’s OK — he’s in it for the adrenaline, and so is Jess.

If a sequel is in the works (as is hinted at the end), theirs could be the start of a beautiful relationship.

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