Focus movie review: con inartistry

Focus red light

Unpleasant, humor free, and contrary to accepted codes of movie morality. And that’s before it shows its hand as a pile of implausible sentimental mush.
I’m “biast” (pro): love a good con movie

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

How did the filmmaking team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa — responsible for the brilliant nastiness of Bad Santa (as writers) and charming sweetness of I Love You Phillip Morris (as writers and directors) — come to this? Focus is unpleasant, humor free, and contrary to accepted codes of movie (and nonmovie) morality. Con artists Nicky (Will Smith: Winter’s Tale), a seasoned expert, and Jess (Margot Robbie: The Wolf of Wall Street), a naive upstart, meet-criminal-cute in New York and move on to work an elaborate pickpocketing operation at the “Associated Football Franchise of America”’s not-Superbowl in New Orleans, where they (and their gang, which is run with sleek businesslike efficiency) rake in more than a million dollars stealing watches and wallets from ordinary schmucks like you and me. I suspect we’re meant to be impressed by their cleverness and entrepreneurial spirit, but anyone who’s had their credit card compromised by lowlifes like these will not be amused, and whatever sympathy we may have had for these people — which wasn’t much to start with — is forever beyond the movie’s reach. (Not even Smith’s everyman appeal helps here.) Then it’s three years later, in Buenos Aires, where Nicky is pulling a job on a millionaire racing engineer (Rodrigo Santoro: Rio 2) and Jess shows up unexpectedly, and for a while I could cling to a small hope that perhaps she is playing a really long con on Nicky, or will at least pull a Dirty Rotten Scoundrels on him (which he definitely deserves). But nope. Focus is built on a framework of scraps stolen from other, better con-job movies, and seems to hope that its bland slickness will distract you from the fact that it ultimately has nothing to offer but the pile of implausible sentimental mush it produces, as if by magic, from up its sleeve while you were looking at your watch.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Focus for its representation of girls and women.

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