Review: FOCUS (2015) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Review: FOCUS (2015)

FOCUS started out well as an impressively slick and sexy caper, but loses focus halfway through.

FOCUS marks Will Smith's first leading role since the big-budget misfire of M. Night Shyamalan's post-apocalyptic disaster AFTER EARTH (2013), and of course, his comeback playing a con artist since his major movie debut in SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION back in 1993. At the first glance, FOCUS seems like a much-needed comeback for Smith's faltering career. In fact, the movie also looks fabulous as a stylish and handsomely-produced crime caper blessed with attractive leads (Smith and Margot Robbie) and enticing subject matter about con artists. But deep down, it's all flashy tease with no satisfying payoff.


Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) is a veteran con man who has his eyes on Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie). He first met her when she tries to swindle him at a posh Manhattan restaurant. But he somehow likes her and takes her as his apprentice. He teaches her all his skills of being a successful con artist, and she proves to be a quick learner after adding her to his team. But soon after the elaborate con game at the Super Bowl in New Orleans, he leaves her a huge amount of money and dumps her without saying a goodbye. Flash forward to three years later, they cross path again in Buenos Aires. Apparently, Nicky is hired by racing mogul Rafael Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro) to help him pulling off an elaborate scam against his rival team, led by McEwen (Robert Taylor). However, Nicky is surprised when he finds out that Jess is now dating Garriga.

Throughout the first half of the movie, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa deliver a lot of bouncy spirit and jazzy vibes to their sleight-of-hand directions. The result is one engaging scene after another that hooks you up from the opening scene itself, as we witnesses the way Nicky teaches Jess about the game of focus as well as the slick art of pickpocketing during the crowded French Quarter scene. Then came the captivating Super Bowl scene, which features some of the movie's best moments involving an arrogant Chinese businessman named Liyuan (BD Wong) playing a series of high-stake bets against Nicky. For a while there, Ficarra and Requa hit the right target of how a con-artist genre should be, along with the help of Xavier Grobet's sultry cinematography and Beth Mickle's wonderful production design.

After his disappointing performance in AFTER EARTH, it's nice to see Will Smith back on track again with a typically charismatic performance as Nicky. He pairs well with Margot Robbie, who finally landed her first major role since her Hollywood breakthrough in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013) with a lively, yet sizzling performance as Jess. Adrian Martinez gives a standout performance, who delivers most of the movie's biggest laughs in his supporting role as Nicky's chubby friend Farhad. Despite appearing only as a cameo, BD Wong makes excellent use of his limited screen time as the cocky and overly-confident businessman Liyuan.

The extended Super Bowl scene is definitely the movie's biggest highlight that sees Nicky and Liyuan betting against each other from thousands to million of dollars.

Whereas the first half is undeniably top notch, the subsequent length of the movie fails to live up its expectation once the story jumps three years later in the Buenos Aires. First of all, the elaborate scheme of Nicky conning Garriga feels lacklustre and frankly, uninteresting. It doesn't help either when Rodrigo Santoro's role as Garriga is terribly underwhelming. Then there's the twist in the third act, which reveals one of the character's true motivations. But instead of an exciting twist, the revelation proves to be unbelievably dumb that you have to see it for yourself.


If only Ficarra and Requa could have sustained the same creative sparks throughout the second half as they did successfully in the first half of the movie, FOCUS is well on its way to become one of the most entertaining crime capers in a long while. Instead, the movie is a half-baked effort that ends up wasting lots of potential.

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