Smith, Robbie pour on the charm
If the mark of a good con artist is that he or she makes you think you know exactly what’s going on—when of course you haven’t a clue—that’s also the mark of a good con-artist movie, isn’t it?
To make you feel like you totally get what’s about to happen—“Oh yeah, I’ve seen this in a lot of movies,” you think—then, boom. That’s not what happens at all. See, you lost your focus for a second.
“It’s about distraction,” explains Nicky, the con artist played by Will Smith in “Focus,” the consistently entertaining new film by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (“Crazy, Stupid, Love.”).
—And that’s what the filmmakers do to us, too—they distract us more than once by making us think we’re watching a predictable, even silly story. We’re lured into feeling smarter than the movie—until we’re not. How did we miss that?
Of course, deft plot twists aren’t enough. A con-artist movie has to make you find something sympathetic in the artist. Here, the film centers on a romance, so we need to be able to invest in that, as well.
Luckily, Smith and relative newcomer Margot Robbie (“The Wolf of Wall Street”) generate believable heat together while also appealing to us individually, so we care what happens to them—even as we keep changing our minds as to which one we should care about most.
Smith’s Nicky and Robbie’s Jess meet in New York, where gorgeous Jess is trying to escape from a creepy guy at the bar. They end up in Jess’ hotel room where, suddenly, they’re caught in the act by Jess’ jealous, gun-toting “husband.”
Only, Nicky figures out right away that it’s a scam (“You should have waited until my pants were off,” he admonishes the amateur pair). Jess realizes she’s met a real pro. “Tutor me,” she pleads.
We next find the two at a football championship in New Orleans, where Nicky and his crew are planning to scam as many fans as possible. Jess shows up, and wants in.
Everything goes swimmingly for the two—and they’re falling for each other, besides. But, romance is a tricky thing when you’re a lifelong trickster. That becomes clear when, in one of the film’s most entertaining scenes, Nicky has to keep Jess in the dark as it appears that he’s totally self-destructing! You can’t show all your cards, even to the person you love.
As the plot twists and turns, it’s best to stop wondering who’s doing what to whom and just, well, focus on watching Smith, wily and vulnerable at the same time, match wits (and hearts) with Robbie—who makes a case here for more leading-lady roles!