Seasoned con man Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) takes inexperienced protégé Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie) under his wing to teach her the art of the grift. You’d think the fact that Smith is Robbie’s senior by two decades might give them a more father-daughter relationship but you’d be wrong. Robbie is stunning and Smith is still famous so naturally the two are fated to fall in love. Or do they? The problem with Focus is that you never quite believe anything that is happening on the screen. It’s one of those “who’s cheating who” type deceptions. There’s genuine skill in creating the perfect con that the best films (The Sting, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Catch Me If You Can) understand. There is a delicate balance between a grounded tale and a twisty fraud. Unfortunately this chronicle is so artificial, there’s nothing to count on. The many eye-rolling moments kill interest in this deception.
Focus is a glossy bit of entertainment, but it’s all a con. It’s crucial to your enjoyment that you enjoy the sexual chemistry that Smith and Robbie are trying so hard to ignite. Robbie is game but Smith lacks the suave demeanor required to really pull this off. He’s no Cary Grant. He’s not even Jim Carrey. There was a time where Smith could pull off charming. He had it in Hitch. But he doesn’t even exude the warmth necessary to even like him as a human being. Smith comes across as more smug – coolly detached to everyone and everything. He’s more in love with himself than his beautiful young co-star. With the romance falling flat there’s just the haphazardly constructed “big job” in the second half to hold our interest. A keen viewer will disregard everything in this subterfuge with a discerning eye. The story never earns our trust. It fails to engage – with one notable exception. Early on Nicky meets a compulsive gambler while attending a football game. B. D. Wong plays the wealthy businessman with fiendish glee. Their escalating back and forth double or nothing betting is the single most delightful scene in the entire film. For a brief moment, the movie comes alive. Too bad it loses focus.