The hallmark of a good movie is seamlessly fusing an engaging story with a number of interesting characters, all the while providing the right amount of details and backstory to drive the movie towards an engaging climax and a gratifying ending. Whether the genre is comedy or horror, a good movie has these elements sewn together in a winsome and satisfying way.
Will Smith’s Focus has none of these elements and, as such, is a terrible movie.
Focus is about a veteran conman named Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) and his relationship with an amateur pickpocket, Jess Barrett (Margo Robbie). The movie opens with Jess attempting to con Nicky, with Nicky quickly exposing her amateurish attempt.
She wins him over and convinces him to take her under his wing and educate her in the arts of grift and deception. The pair develop a sexual relationship and after a particularly lucrative con, Nicky gives her a sizable cut and boots her to the curb.
Years later, the two cross paths in Buenos Aires. Nicky is working for a wealthy race car driver and in the course of his employ, he comes to find out that Jess happens to be the man’s girlfriend. After a couple failed attempts at restarting their relationship, Nicky succeeds and the two begin their tryst anew. Nicky and Jess aim to complete the con Nicky started, but they fail and are saved by Nicky’s long-lost father at the last moment.
The movie wraps up with the two in arms, heading to a hospital—poor and broken, but full of that sort of blind hope that only a corny romantic comedy can muster.
While the movie fails on many fronts, there are two primary failings of the movie: the lack of interesting and contextualized main characters and a broken, lifeless story line. Each shall be considered in turn.
The two-dimensional characters
First, the movie’s two main characters are entirely uninteresting and stale. The character of Nicky is somewhat engaging—at this might be due to Smith’s acting chops and natural charisma—but the character is still uninspired. The seasoned conman with a checkered past and a fractured relationship with his cold, distant father is incredibly trite.
No discernibly new spin is put on this common trope of the talented but troubled criminal. While this drab character is acted with Smith’s usual chops, his efforts are completely hamstrung by the limitations inherent in his humdrum character.
Jess is completely flat and void of substance. While Margo Robbie is capable enough as an actress, she has neither the presence or personal magnetism of Smith that would allow her to transcend the serious limitations of her character. Jess’ character is a typical 20-something blond who is ambitious but apparently troubled with psychic conflict about her life—basically every Western woman. As such, her character is lifeless, superficial and utterly uninspired.
Given that the two main characters are uninteresting, the relationship between the two is void of interest. It is painfully obvious from the outset that the two are going to knock boots and eventually fall in love. Despite this obvious story arc, the movie has no real push-pull between the two, no real sexual frustration or tension.
They come together with seemingly no difficulty or real spark and somehow fall in love, sort of. Sexual attraction can’t exist without sexual tension and there can be no love without mystery. Sex and romance just happen in this movie and this seriously debilitating problem bleeds into the rest of the movie.
The lousy story
The main story arc—if it can be referred to as such—has no continuity and feels like two separate shorts with the same two main characters cobbled together in one film. Just like with the romantic relationship between Nicky and Jess, the main story is bland and contrived. The first part of the movie feels like an incredibly long introduction so the second part of the movie has context and makes sense.
The cons pulled off are either rather boring (the race car con) or incredibly fortuitous (the Superdome con). They seem to be secondary to the evolution of Nicky and Jess’s relationship, but since neither character is particularly engaging, the plot is little more than a lifeless, meandering mess.
For a movie purported to revolve around the exhortation that one not lose focus, Focus has no focus to speak of. Despite Will Smith’s charisma and the alleged chemistry between him and Margo Robbie, Focus simply is a lackluster, boring film. The characters are not original or engaging and the story arc would be more pleasing if it wasn’t so mundane and broken.
Charles’s Verdict: 2/10, would not watch again.