Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Focus: Movie Review

Playing a game that doesn't need to be played.

Focus is about getting out of the game before the game gets you. Veteran con man Nicky (Will Smith) decides to take a young, hot aspiring con woman, Jess (Margot Robbie), under his wing. And the storyline that follows is a romance where one of them is constantly trying to make the right play and the other is still learning what the right play is. But what this also means is that the movie is a crime comedy with no substantial crime stories and no comedy. 2015

Directed by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

Screenplay by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

Starring: Will Smith, Margot Robbie

Also lacking is the chemistry, that crucial ingredient that makes romantic stories romantic. While both Smith and Robbie are hot on their own, they're really not hot together, and the pairing of them seems to be entirely because the script says so and not because they belong together. Will Smith is going for a Hitch-type persona but more serious and subdued. It works for him since he's now 10 years older but is still suave and charming. Margot Robbie is probably going to struggle shedding her star-making role in The Wolf of Wall Street and while Jess is a similar character, she came off much more sweet than Naomi.

The beginning of the movie is the introduction of Jess and Nicky, focusing too much on the non-existent heat between them, but then playing up the cons that they're each pulling. Which leads to Nicky teaching Jess, allowing Jess to remain the sweet and more innocent girl. In the second act, we're off to New Orleans where Jess is introduced as a member of the con-pulling team and the film picks up a bit more energy as the supporting characters provide a bit of humour that the leads are lacking. It also leads to one of the most entertaining cons ever seen on film as the rich and impulsive Nicky runs into a richer and more impulsive man at the Superbowl. Directors John Requa and Glenn Ficarra have a particular knack of leading the audience in the dark until a surprising reveal seems so obvious in hindsight but still tricks myself and other viewers.

Count me among the many fans that Requa and Ficarra earned after their previous outings with the nontraditional crime romance I Love You Phillip Morris and the traditional romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love. But their follow-up is just not as clever, or funny, or romantic as it should be.

After the entertaining con which marks the middle of the movie, the leads are playing the game of getting out of the game before the game gets you, and seeing as their relationship wasn't interesting in the first place, it doesn't get more interesting when they start playing games. We also move to Buenos Aires where Nicky has a major con up his sleeve, but we don't see much of the city and we don't know much about the con that Nicky's pulling – that's either because the writers don't trust the audience to understand, or if they had to explain it, it wouldn't make any sense. Either way, not good. The final act of the movie gets significantly less interesting and more stupid. Which is not a good combination.

The film occasionally makes good use of the city lights at night and bright colours, giving it an appropriately stylish but not overly-stylized look. Unfortunately, the script that ties it all together seems to be going with what will sell not with what will work. It's a Hollywood game that I just don't want to be playing.

Similar Titles:

I Love You Phillip Morris (2009) - Unabashedly hilarious, wildly inventive and real - in more ways than one.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. (2011) - Twisting your standard romantic comedy into something that's hilarious and refreshing.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) - Drugs, sex and alcohol disguises the brilliant character work of the wolf.

Runner Runner (2013) - Lives the meaningless life for way too long to provide much substance.