Three out of five stars
From the directors and writers of "Crazy, Stupid, Love." comes the con-job romantic dramedy "Focus."
Nicky (Will Smith) is drinking, alone, in a posh New York City hotel restaurant when a gorgeous blonde, Jess (Margot Robbie of "The Wolf of Wall Street"), begins having some trouble with a gentleman at the bar. She approaches Nicky and asks whether he’d mind pretending to be her boyfriend, which is kind of like asking anyone with a pulse -- man or woman, gay or straight – whether they’d mind pretending to be Margot Robbie’s boyfriend.
Robbie is gorgeous, and her chemistry with Smith is palpable. Small talk leads to flirtation, which leads to Jess’ hotel room, which leads to her “husband” bursting through the door and threatening Nicky’s life at gunpoint; at which point Nicky insists the jealous husband shoot him.
The husband, perplexed, doesn’t know how to handle the situation. Turns out, Nicky has known all along he was being conned, because he’s a con man, too.
Nicky points out the flaws in Jess’ con, gives a few tips and leaves. It’s a telling scene because it telegraphs what the rest of the movie will be: enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing, but just a little too cute and convenient.
Nicky isn’t just a con man; he runs a multimillion-dollar network of cons. He employs freelancers to work major events, like the Super Bowl, and Jess wants a piece of the action. She also wants a piece of Nicky. And off we go.
These two like each other, but their lack of morality is this story’s major flaw. As great as “Focus” is to look at, and as charming as Smith and Robbie are, it was difficult to fully invest in either of them because, at their core, Nicky and Jess are despicably selfish people.
There’s also a wild card here, and that’s Adrian Martinez. The journeyman actor, probably best known to most as the Cheesehead fan from the State Farm insurance commercials starring Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, steals scenes in “Focus” as Farhad, Nicky’s right-hand man and good friend. Martinez is flat out, R-rated funny.
“Focus” is, overall, entertaining and surprisingly unpredictable. Though when I say unpredictable, what I mean is some of the twists are imaginative. And when I say imaginative, I mean impossible. Even so, "Focus" provides some fun moments, though that lack of empathy for the main players ultimately makes it a less-than-satisfying experience.