There was a moment in Hollywood history when you could just roll out the ol’ entertainment ball and watch the money pile up. Will Smith, some blonde who has also made out with Leo DiCaprio, and a trailer that looked like a meth biker gang had cut it together, and you were all set. People would be tickled pink, they’d leave the theater saying things like, “Why, that was sum enter-TAIN-ment! The point is, people used to be even dumber than they currently are, and that’s really saying something. Or perhaps we all just have better things to do now with our time, such as couple’s massages or Asian fusion meals. This paragraph ended up being very unfocused. My bust.
But yeah, Focus. The best part about Focus is that the name is very short. Focus. Automatic half a letter grade up, which is unfortunately subtracted when the main characters talk about how “you gotta focus in this game!” Or, “distract their focus and you’ll rule the day!” The film is named Focus and it’s about freakin’ focus, and how con men and women gotta focus up to dupe unsuspecting rubes. Focus, focus, focus. There. Now you get it.
We start with Will Smith, he’s a man of the con. Mostly lifting wallets, jewelry, and camera lenses in teams, and then selling them on the black market for wallets, jewelry, and camera lenses (read: eBay). He seems to have a team of about 20, including ubiquitous henchfolk tasked solely with counting money. I’ve always wondered how you get that job. “Do you like counting money in dingy back rooms full of criminals? Apply within! Dental included!” Enter Margot Robbie as a glassy-eyed set-up gal, the natural evolution of Kate Bosworth. She has very small nostrils. Check it out:
In their meet-cute she lures a totally suspecting Will Smith back to her room where her accomplice breaks in, posing as her husband, wildly waving a gun around and demanding money. Will Smith has seen this trick before, he’s been around the block, so he calls the bluff. Robbie wants to know how he knew, and why he went through with it, and Smith informs her he wanted to touch her boobs. This is pretty focused logic, and I can’t quibble. From there, Smith tells her to beat feet, scram, but she clings on and demands he teach her the ropes. Eventually he acquiesces, though the film would never know that word, and she’s enlisted in a Super Bowl week scam. It can’t be called the Super Bowl, though, because the NFL are weiners, so it’s called like the “Association Football League Bowl” or some other such nonsense and a team called the Miami Threshers is prominently involved. Even for a Hollywood movie, a team from Miami making the final game strains at the bounds of credulity, though the film wouldn’t know that word either.
The weekend goes sooooooo great. They are thievin’ and rollin’ on the river, taking $1.2m off New Orleans drunkards. Everyone sees the chemistry between the two at the center of the action, Robbie and Smith, and there’s a bunch of between the sheets heavy petting and body rockin’ beats. These two, I mean, they were meant for each other, and after 72 hours, it’s clear that the heart and genital area wants what it wants. And THEN. Well, lemme tell you, Smith feels like she’s getting too close, just like every man would after three days of straight banging with a human ice cream cone. Gotta kick that to the curb, so Big Willy Style does, telling her it was all in the game and to carry her ass right on down the road. As you can imagine, she takes this poorly. She had their future life of pickpocketing all planned out.
Fast forward. It’s three years later, and we’re in Buenos Aires, ostensibly, though the film wouldn’t know that word, for the tax credits and tasty cow. Will Smith, ever since he dropped the blonde off at the pound, has been in a funk, and not an uptown kind either. However, this funk has been due to making that call to dump the Robbie and OH MY GOD THERE SHE IS!! Could he have texted her? Emailed? Called? These details are unclear, our only takeaway is that Will Smith still loves the girl he spent 18 minutes with three years ago. Robbie, for her part, is more lukewarm on the entire enterprise. She says something to the effect of, “Bro, you left me high and dry on the streets so you’re not marriage material.” But Smith can’t resist, he’s all in this time around.
Enter the con! Robbie is dating this race car team mogul, and he’s looking to sabotage the other Formula 1 race teams. (Note: It is not called Formula 1). He wants Will Smith to infiltrate and destroy the rivals. Smith has a plan to do this, but he also wants to get the girl too. From there, it’s twist-a-rama central, and to keep up, you will need a moderately sized jar of paste. Who is what side? Who is conning who? What will happen when Will Smith lays all his cards on the table, will Margot demure or take the ride to pound town? These are the mysteries of Focus, and they are equivalent to a fourth-grader doing his multiplication tables, so long as you stop at seven.
Which brings us to the huge problem with Focus. It’s two separate con jobs, overly convoluted, interspersed with a three-year hiatus for no real reason. The film wants to trade upon the tension of Robbie-Smith, but we’ve seen nothing more than a montage and some open mouth kissing. That’s like a Friday night, and it creates all the tension of a hot dog thrown down a well. You just hear a “plop.” I mean, why not just keep them together? Why go forward three years? There’s no real reason for anything the film does, except for someone yelled, “Action!,” and people were getting paid for their time. Sure, there’s something to be said for a utilitarian economy, but a bunch of picturesque locales and stars you’d like to plow maketh a movie not. Hell, it’s February/March, and there’s no real reason for anyone to try, and this is a hell of a lot better than After Earth, but that’s not really saying anything at all. Focus is filled to the brim with stupid, and the real con job around here continues to be studios paying tens of millions of dollars to produce the narrative equivalent of a giant sulphur pit.