Directorial duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa return to the big screen with the Will-Smith-starring romantically-laced con artist com-drama, Focus. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star owed the world a favour following his last outing in the monstrously bad After Earth. With breakout star Margot Robbie by his side, there was hope that this would be the cool looking flick to get the previously sure-fire box office hit-maker back on track.
Smith’s Nicky has known nothing other than hustling: conning people has been the family business for generations, and the smooth-talking schemer has got it down to a fine art. While on a job he runs into Jess (Margot Robbie) – an amateur thief who he sees straight through – and takes her under his criminal wing to teach the young gun the tricks of the trade. Things soon turn romantic, and as Jess quickly proves her worth as a swindler, the experienced con man realises that in their line of work the relationship won’t work out – dumping his apprentice with $80,000 to help ease her sorrows. The pair meet three years later in unexpected circumstances as Nicky starts working for millionaire race car owner, Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro). As the two begin to reconnect and the plot unfolds, we’re asked one simply question: who’s hustling who?
Like the Sigmund Freud of the con artist fraternity, Nicky’s striking knowledge of human behaviour – which makes you feel like you’re sitting through Hustling 101 – is intriguing, yet done in such a wishy-washy fashion that it is all too quickly overlooked due to the sheer spectacle of it all as Jess dances down the street, reminiscent of a Broadway musical, stealing personal items from easily fooled victims with suspicious ease. The balance between crime-drama and rom-com that Focus tries to hit feels muddled, particularly in its later stages as its tedious baddie, Garriga, unintentionally gets in-between the on/off lovers. Smith and Robbie’s much talked about on-screen chemistry appears over-hyped, as the pair – although both individually fairly impressive – fail to sizzle as a less than charismatic, and not particularly funny, script did little to help create a convincing bond.
You get the sense that Focus believes that it is far cleverer than it actually is in reality. The psychological jargon which Smith’s character churns out seems out of place, and unconvincing in its attempt to persuade the audience that this is more than a fluffy and over-glossed affair which cannot escape the shadows of the shiny watches, flashy cars, and big houses. Its twisty-turny plotline, which at times borders on the predictable, offers a little excitement, as does Smith’s returning swagger, yet too often its attempted humour fell flat on its face. Ficarra and Recqua’s film looks the part, yet under its shiny exterior lacks the character to make this anything other than a lacklustre, and easily forgettable, watch.