Out In Theaters: The Not-So-Fresh Prince of Focus
Hometown hero (and long rumored homosexual—sorry, Jada) Will Smith returns to the big screen as a con man with a plan in Focus. The new film from writing/directing duo Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, responsible for the mildly amusing gay comedy I Love You Phillip Morris and the delightful Crazy, Stupid Love, mostly leaves comedy behind in favor of a muddled … romantic dramedy thriller? Regardless of the film’s lack of foc … cohesion, it is definitely a fun ride, at least for the first-half.
Will Smith (Independence Day) stars as Nicky, one of the greatest grifters in the game whose ability to steal and swindle people out of their valuables is matched only by his cunning and wit. After a girl named Jess (Margot Robbie, Wolf of Wall Street, who has officially made me bi-curious she is so damn stunning in this film) fails to turn the con on him, he takes her under his wing for the night, showing this girl his tricks of the trade before vanishing. Jess tracks down Nicky to New Orleans, where his intricate network of con artists has gathered to pickpocket and gamble their way through the Big Easy as it hosts the Super Bowl. Jess proves her worth in a series of fantastically choreographed pickpocketing sequences that have left me feeling paranoid as to the whereabouts of my wallet even to this day.
Intrigued by his gorgeous protégé, Nicky does more than take Jess under his wing—he takes her into his hotel room. Before you can say “Bow Chicka Wow Wow” the two prove to have little to no chemistry onscreen, where Smith fizzles (those grey chest hairs really pop in IMAX) but Robbie sizzles. Stealing almost every scene she’s in, Robbie is electrifying onscreen, showing a range from femme fatale to damaged vixen throughout Focus. Smith on the otherhand is doing nothing to reclaim his former leading man status and comes across rather one-note. Sure his character is supposed to be emotionally distant (i.e. daddy issues) but the lack of vulnerability and charm really belies the persona Will Smith has built for himself film after film.
After an entertaining first-half in New Orleans (and a wildly enjoyable turn by out actor B.D. Wong as a notorious Asian gambler), the film suddenly downshifts and skips forward a few years to South America. Nicky gets involved with a racecar mogul (the delicious Rodrigo Santoro, 300) who has developed a new supersystem for his vehicle and wants Nicky to pose as a disgruntled former employee and sell a fake system to his competitors in order to … yea I stopped caring too. Focus does itself a disservice by removing all that had made it such an engrossing ride to begin with and restarting the story mid-film. It truly feels like the first half of Focus is a pilot for an HBO series that didn’t get picked up and they decided to tack on Season 2 episode 6 for the last 45 minutes. It boggles my mind as to why two clever storytellers (you have to admit they pulled those storylines together marvelously in Crazy, Stupid Love) would do such a thing.
Focus caught me off guard for the first half of the film with how much I was genuinely enjoying the ride, despite the lack of genuine chemistry between the two leads. But a mid-film plot bait and switch slows things down to the point of nearly no recovery. Thankfully the final ten minutes or so provide some connections to the film’s better half, but it’s honestly too little too late. Philadelphia native Will Smith has had a rough go at it in the box office as of late (After Earth was a total flop two years ago) and Focus will do little to turn things around. Luckily, a star is solidified in Margot Robbie, who was one of the best things about Wolf of Wall Street, and I look forward to seeing her and Smith attempt to have chemistry again next year in the Batman villain spinoff Suicide Squad. Until then, I’ll rewatch old episodes of Fresh Prince of Bel Air and remember our Will Smith chillin’ out, maxin’, relaxin’ all cool … those were better times.
Now Playing at: UA Main Street, The Pearl at Avenue North, Rave University 6, UA Riverview Plaza