By LYNN BARKER
Front Row Features
After his string of sci-fi actioners, it’s great to see Will Smith take on a sexy male lead again. Despite a few unintended scenes telegraphing who is being conned by whom, “Focus” succeeds in being a mostly smart and entertaining crime caper film.
Writer/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (“Crazy Stupid Love,” “Bad Santa”) create a fun parade of various con jobs while developing a romance between a veteran con man named Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith), and his protégé, a gorgeous and light-fingered pickpocket called Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie). The two meet in New York where Jess tries out for Nicky’s squad of con-people. Then she’s onboard with the gang working a big football championship in New Orleans.
When Nicky coldly dismisses his new lover by telling her she did a great job and dumping her off at the airport, she is shattered. We jump ahead three years later to Buenos Aires where Nicky’s been hired by racing mogul Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro) to pretend to sell a big racing doohickey that will make cars go fast to his major competition. The job gets iffy and Nicky loses his “focus” by spotting Jess, looking hotter than ever and on the arm of his boss. We wonder if she’s conning the new boyfriend or are they both using Nicky?
The con jobs in the film are clever but some are foreshadowed too early and a couple would cause the audience to doubt they actually could be pulled off. Nonetheless, there is enough fun, witty humor peppered throughout to endear us to the characters with Smith back in his element as a charming if cocky leading man, who gets to show off his pecs and win the leading lady in a few steamy, but not-overly-steamy, love scenes. Smith and Robbie (who co-starred with Leonardo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street”) have a fun, believable chemistry, and Robbie pulls off the not-overly-confident femme fatale role with flair.
The supporting cast is great. Gerald McRaney (of TV’s “Simon and Simon” fame) is funny/gruff as an old pro spouting advice and criticism right and left, BD Wong (who stars in the upcoming “Jurassic World”) scores as a gambling-addicted, Asian mogul and Adrian Martinez (“American Hustle”) playing the chubby sidekick Farhad is a hoot.
Overall, “Focus” isn’t as tight a con caper movie as it could be, but the characters and actors playing them make up for it. It’s a good time at the Cineplex.