Vacuous, less-than-thrilling con artist flick starring Will Smith and Margot Robbie
It's been 22 years since Will Smith starred in Six Degrees of Separation, a wonderfully subtle adaptation of John Guare's play about a young con artist who takes in a well-to-do Manhattan couple. Watching Smith's new film Focus, his first lead since the risible After Earth, it's hard not to yearn for the risk-taking actor of that earlier work. Written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love.), Focus is simply one of those empty, know-it-all tales about grifters working scams, and each other, wrapped around an equally vapid love story.
Smith plays Nicky, a born-and-raised con man who leads a team that spend their lives ripping off the unwitting – everything from swiping watches and wallets to fooling big-time gamblers. When he meets wannabe swindler Jess (The Wolf of Wall Street's Margot Robbie), she implores him to teach her the game, which he does. But just as they start falling for each other, Nicky dumps her without a reason. Fast-forward three years, and Nicky is now in Buenos Aires working a scam when in walks Jess, now dating his latest mark – Rodrigo Santoro's motor-racing kingpin.
The greatest deception here is pulled by Ficarra and Requa, who manage to fool you into thinking this flashy tale will amount to something more than it does. Apart from a stunt set around a football game, the stings aren't that elaborate or ingenious, while the chemistry between Smith and Robbie is almost non-existent. In a universe that's meant to be seductive, the directors spend most of their time relying on an admittedly lively Robbie to bring the sex appeal. It's almost as if they're playing the audience with a scam learnt from Nicky: distracting their targets with a shiny jewel to prevent them discovering the con.
General release from Fri 27 Feb.