Sometimes, gorgeous actors and exciting plot twists aren’t enough. Masked behind beautiful faces, amusing one-liners and intricate heists, “Focus” is exciting but ultimately becomes repetitive, mundane and, at times, offensive. For a film grounded in these elaborate twists and turns, “Focus” is surprisingly predictable — and forgettable.
Written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (the team behind “Crazy Stupid Love”), “Focus” tells the implausible story of Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith), a charismatic, seasoned and unhappy con man.
When Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie), a young and beautiful amateur con artist, asks Nicky to train her in his brilliant criminal ways, he introduces her to his grand, debonair world of high-tech and unbelievably well-organized criminal artistry. “Tutor me,” Jess says. “I was a dyslexic foster kid. It’s amazing I’m not a hooker right now.” Nicky does tutor her and eventually inducts her into his ragtag team of glorified pickpockets.
The two quickly become romantically involved, but this seems to be a doomed relationship, as both parties involved make a career out of lying. When Nicky realizes that Jess has gotten too close for comfort, he uses her as a pawn in one of his intricate plans and abruptly breaks it off.
Flash forward three years. Nicky is in the midst of his most ambitious and dangerous scheme in Buenos Aires when Jess — now an accomplished femme fatale — shows up and begins to complicate things.
Similarly to films such as “Wolf of Wall Street,” “Goodfellas” and “Casino,” “Focus” attempts to introduce audience members to an exciting, glamorous new world of criminal perfection in a classic Scorsesean fashion. Unlike these classics, however, “Focus” fails to teach us anything. Nicky never learns to correct his flawed criminal ways. He never learns that misogyny is not OK. His grand castle of sand never comes crumbling down. His deception never fails.
But despite its flawed narrative structure and its strict absence of morality, “Focus” is lined with impressive acting. Smith is charming, brooding and loveable in his role as Nicky, and Adrian Martinez is hilarious in his portrayal of Farhad, an obese, foul-mouthed member of Nicky’s team of thieves.
Margot Robbie, however, a dynamic actress who gave a stellar performance in “Wolf of Wall Street,” isn’t given an opportunity to actually act in this film. Despite being cast in a seemingly leading role, she primarily stands in as a prop in a world run by men, batting her eyelashes and falling in love.
It’s as if the filmmakers don’t understand a world outside of men. “Focus” is a film with only one woman in it — and she is gorgeous, she barely wears any clothing, and all she wants is the expert advice of wise men. And the only thing the men surrounding her do is joke about her having “the world’s longest period” as they cast her aside and distract her with gleaming jewelry.
Flawed storytelling and blatant sexism aside, “Focus” is, at times, an enjoyable film. Clever instances of humor bring moments of uproarious laughter to uninterested audience members. Beautifully filmed, intricately executed heist scenes reminiscent of “Ocean’s Eleven” are exciting, nerve-wracking and an absolute joy to watch.
But “Focus” is too reliant on these sequences of criminal deception. After being duped time after time by complicated twists and turns, one ends up becoming fed up and bored with Nicky’s complex criminal plots. Writer-directors Ficarra and Requa eventually seem to be simply showing off to audience members, using these failed plot twists as a crutch for a film dying of mundaneness.
After the success of “Crazy Stupid Love,” a sweet romantic comedy about genuinely kind-hearted people, one would expect something more human, more interesting and more enjoyable from Ficarra and John Requa. “Focus,” however, seems to be a step backward. There are no genuine characters and no kind-hearted people. There’s just deception and sexism.
Glittered with enjoyable acting, instances of genuine comedy and exciting sequences of criminal treachery, “Focus” ultimately only teaches us one thing: The glamorous allure of sex, crime and deception can only take a poorly written film so far.
Contact Jeremy Siegel at [email protected].