Focus (Warner Bros., R)

focus 75It seems a shame that Focus isn’t better than it is—it’s like they manufactured it to be forgettable.

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There’s a brand of Hollywood movie that hits the sweet spot of the script being just the right amount of dumb for dumb audiences to think that it’s smart. Often these films can be fun—a recent example is Now You See Me, which wasn’t bad—and Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s new film, Focus, fits squarely in this type.

Not that Focus is all that fun, really, but it has a good cast and an interesting, if terribly generic, premise. What you think of the film will likely reflect your mood going in—if you’re in a good mood it’s a pleasing enough film, and if you’re in a bad mood then it’s a stupid film full of plot holes and made for idiots.

Our main character is Nicky (Will Smith), the leader of a team of con artists, pickpockets, and the like. Early in Focus, Nicky is the target of a poorly-conceived wallet theft by rookie crook Jess (The Wolf of Wall Street’s Margot Robbie, whom everyone will be happy to see on the big screen again, I’m sure), and, bemused by her failed attempt to rob the robber, Nicky takes her on as an apprentice, adding her to his team (and using her for her looks—handy in misdirection) for a coordinated hit on all of the dumb, rich tourists at the Super Bowl.

Though it plays at not starting off this way, of course Nicky and Jess get romantically entangled, which scares Nicky, so he takes the end of the Super Bowl job as an opportunity to semi-gracefully remove Jess from his life. Fast forward a couple of years, and Nicky and his team are in Buenos Aires doing a job on racecar drivers, only to find Jess as something of a moll to one of them.

Ficarra and Requa are talented writers and directors. They generally work as a team, and career highlights include the script for Bad Santa and the script and direction of I Love You, Phillip Morris, the latter of which explores some similar themes as Focus. That said, their first big Hollywood deal was the script for 2001’s Cats & Dogs, which was okay, but unfortunately it’s more on that level that Focus is pitched. It seems a shame that Focus isn’t better than it is—it’s like they manufactured it to be forgettable. I mean, just look at that title—as Will Smith has a tendency to rise above anything he’s in, and while most people will be drawn to Margot Robbie for her physical beauty, she proved in The Wolf of Wall Street that she’s a talented actress to boot. (She doesn’t fare quite so well here.)

The one comparison that kept popping in my head when watching Focus was Steven Soderbergh’s great 1998 film Out of Sight, which is what Focus appears to want to be, but gets nowhere near. Out of Sight is a smart, sexy-as-hell bank robber movie, and Focus is a dumb, less-sexy-than-it-wants-to-be con movie with a twist ending you can see from a mile away. | Pete Timmermann

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