Welcome to “Focus.” In which Will Smith explains it all for us. And explains. And explains.
And explains some more.
The subject of Smith’s voluminous verbiage is the process of pickpocketing, purloining, filching and flimflamming folks out of their personal property by catching them all unawares with lightning-fast, light-fingered moves executed with the utmost confidence.
That’s confidence, as in con man, which is what Smith is playing in this movie with a title that’s so generic and forgettable it slips from the mind almost as soon as you hear it.
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“Focus.” Meaning what, exactly? Smith’s character, Nicky, explains:
“At the end of the day, this is a game of focus,” he tells a wide-eyed, lissome blonde played by Margot Robbie who wants to learn the ins and outs of Nicky’s larcenous occupation. It means keeping one’s eyes fixed on the prize — a watch, a wallet, a bracelet or other bauble, for starters, then scaling up to high-stakes cons — while distracting the mark in a variety of ways. Ways that are explained by Nicky at great and densely scripted length.
“There’s a science to getting people to trust you,” he relates. “Never drop the con. Die with the lie,” he instructs.
You can think of “Focus” as a feature-length tutorial on the art of scams. You can also think of it as surprisingly boring, considering the subject matter and Smith’s star power.
But Smith’s trademark charisma seems to be on sabbatical. In one scene, Nicky is dumped, face-down and drunk, onto a hotel floor by a couple of heavies. “I still got it,” he slurs. Uh, Will, don’t think so. Not here, anyway.
Is he haunted by the epic cratering of “After Earth” at the home-front box office? Who can say? But what can be said is that his heart doesn’t seem to be in it this time around. A distinct lack of focus and engagement with the role afflicts his performance.
Nicky is a smooth dude, all glossy surfaces, often shirtless, toned, buff. But there’s little depth to him. Smith seems to be merely going through the motions.
The same goes for Robbie. She’s very attractive, whether displayed in a skimpy bikini or tight-fitting frocks, but beneath her decorative exterior there is nothing much in the way of character. She’s supposed to be a head-turner, a distractor, a vamp whose loveliness causes Nicky to lose his all-important focus and propels him into bad situations with dangerous people. But seeing them together you find yourself wondering: Where’s the heat? Their sex scenes are lukewarm at best. You could almost say decorous.
Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa are partial to glitzy visuals, but even those seem halfhearted. The picture moves from New York to New Orleans to Buenos Aires, but there’s little distinctive sense of place in any of their scenes. Most of the time the movie gives the impression it could have been shot anywhere.
Excessively talky — on and on Nicky goes with all those explanations — and with little detectable chemistry between its two leads, “Focus” is as forgettable as its title.