Focus February 26, 2015 FOCUS (USA/15A/104mins) Directed by Glenn Ficarra, John Requa. Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, ED Wong, Gerald McRaney, Laura Flannery, Adrian Martinez. THE PLOT: We’re in the exciting underworld of the professional pickpocket, the smooth veteran Nicky (Smith) offering hot young novice Jess (Robbie) some of the tricks of his trade when they meet up in a Manhattan restaurant. They’re soon in New Orleans, where there are plenty of drunk tourists – and therefore, lots of lovely moolah for Nicky and his band of merry operatives to snatch. Jess proves herself pretty adept at parting fools from their money too, but she’s not quite ready to witness Nicky dig deeper and deeper into debt when he begins wagering with loaded Chinese tycoon Liyuan (Wong, the very welcome comic relief here). Jump to three years later, and Nicky and Jess meet under very different circumstances… THE VERDICT: And so the slow, painful death of Will Smith’s career takes another step towards VOD oblivion. Having recently stated that M. Night Shyamalan’s AFTER EARTH was the ‘most painful failure’ in his career (which is saying something, given Will’s recent run of flops), Smith is doing himself no favours signing up for this second-rate Steven Seagal nonsense. Already receiving a critical kicking in the US, what’s more telling about the likely fate of FOCUS is the complete lack here of star power (sorry, Margot, Rodrigo, Brenna, Griff and BD Wong), enticing hook or anything approaching an original idea. Smith has truly become the black Tom Cruise, another fallen box-office giant riding on the shoulders of dead franchises, at a time when good old-fashioned star power or Ron’s Hollywood mafia can no longer save you from an increasingly indifferent and suspicious public. This one will sink like a frickin’ stone. RATING: 1/5 Review by Paul Byrne FocusReview by Paul Byrne2015-02-261.0Unoriginal filmbuff2011 Focus is a somewhat ironic title for a sun-dappled crime caper that itself loses focus at many points in the story. Nicky (Will Smith) is a professional con-man who is a smooth operator when it comes to spotting scams and cons. This is where he meets Jess (Margot Robbie), who attempts to con him out of his wallet. He takes her under his wing, teaching her the way of the con. After proving that she’s better than he thinks, she joins his crew… but then he ditches her after a key job. Their paths cross again years later in Buenos Aires, where she’s found a new man (Rodrigo Santoro) who Nicky has targeted for a scam. This throws him off his game, as they start flirting with each other again. But just who is playing who here? Hollywood’s obsession with hot young women overshadows what might have been an interesting take on the con-man sub-genre. There’s no getting away from the fact that Smith is a good 22 years older than Robbie – old enough to be her father. It’s a clear case of mis-casting, even if Robbie consolidates her star-making turn in The Wolf Of Wall Street with another eye-catching performance. Smith is his usual charming, eminently watchable self but you never really get the sense that his character is that sensitive or ruthless when it comes to handling people in the con game. Co-directors and co-writers Glenn Ficarra and John Requa follow up their memorable 2011 romcom Crazy Stupid Love with a story that takes too many twists and turns. Towards the end of the film, there’s only so many character revelations that an audience can take. But they keep piling them on, thinly disguising the fact that the film itself is something of a con job. It has the glamourous stars, locations and plot mechanics to make it watchable, but it’s also a film that forgets to be fun. It’s an allright film, but you’d be better off focusing on something more engaging. ** emerb “Focus” is a slick, suave and smart caper from writing-directing duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (who also directed the underrated comedy, “Crazy, Stupid, Love”). It’s a dazzling tale about con artists that teases and tantalizes but manages to hold your interest throughout. Veteran conman and sleight-of-hand pickpocket Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) takes the less-skilled but eager Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie) under his wing and trains her in the ways of skillful swindling. The moment he sets eyes on her in a Big Easy night club, he never misses a beat as he quickly sizes up her scam. He plays along, flipping the con by exposing her mistakes. At the same time, he’s impressed with this sexy novice. Jess is desperate to rise above just fleecing rich guys for their spare change, so she tries to work her way onto Nick’s band of high-stake thieves, which has gathered in New Orleans, to skim the crowds gathered for a football championship game. Nicky allows himself to be seduced, recognizing how the arrangement might serve his own ends. Technically he doesn’t need her but she could be a bonus. Jess proves her worth to Nicky and they become lovers. She’s in love and ready to learn the tricks but when he abruptly breaks her heart and leaves her in the back seat of a getaway car, she’s gutted. Three years later, their paths cross again in Buenos Aires, in the middle of a high stakes racecar circuit. The mystery deepens as she appears on the arm of his rich new boss, racing mogul Rafael Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro). Are we to believe her claims that she has been reinvented as a sweet romantic who got out of the game or is she lying in wait as a now accomplished trickster who feels that it’s her turn to con him? For me, chemistry is the key to making this film work and it features charming and charismatic performances from Will Smith and Margot Robbie, who both slip easily into their roles. The real “Focus” in the film is the sparky relationship between the pair. He’s a master of trickery but he may have met his match in this sexy novice who turns out to be a fast and fleet sparring partner. Their characters flirt amicably as he strips her of her valuables — wallet, watch, her ring — one after the other. It’s like a magician pulling out scarves and it’s such fun to watch. Smith revels in the opportunity to play the super-slick Nicky but for me, Margot Robbie was the standout. Her Jess is instantly an accessible and marvelously gutsy character who is both vulnerable and yet brassy. Following on from a great performance in The Wolf Of Wall Street, she works wonderfully here. You’re never 100 percent sure whether she’s being played or doing the playing, whether she’s the cat or the mouse. She is versatile enough to breeze through the lighter scenes and strong enough to carry the more serious emotional and heavy issues when they arise. Focus is great fun, it’s certainly not predictable and with twists and turns at every corner, I found this colourful romp across the criminal world very entertaining. It gives us a pleasant change from the Academy Award seriousness and it’s good to see Smith resurrect his career somewhat after the disastrous “After Earth”. It’s really thanks to two strong lead performances that “Focus” is such a sexy, glossy and satisfying ride – well worth a watch.