I did not realize “Focus” was bad until I realized I had spent an hour wondering what side of the road Brazilians drive on.
There is frequently a more than semantic difference between a film that is “good” and one that is “entertaining.” Good films are usually entertaining (though in extremely rare cases, this is not so), and entertaining films are often good. However, overlap is not guaranteed. “Focus” is entertaining.
I suppose you can label “Focus” as a heist film, though to do so is to stretch the definition of the term almost to its breaking point. Yes, things get stolen in the film, but it never seems to be the driving force behind the story.
“Focus” follows Nicky (Will Smith), a slick-talking, charismatic con man who runs a fairly sophisticated ring of pickpockets and thieves. They spend their time traveling the world in search of large crowds to fleece of their belongings. Wallets, watches and credit cards are all fair game, and Nicky’s crew is good at what it does.
After a chance encounter with beautiful but inept wannabe thief Jess (Aussie actress Margo Robbie gamely trying out an American accent) that leads to a botched shake-down, Nicky allows Jess to join his crew as they spend Super Bowl week in New Orleans, robbing crowds of football fans and fencing the goods online.
Inevitably, Jess and Nicky fall for one another. But their star-crossed love is not to be, as Nicky ultimately gives Jess her cut of the Super Bowl money and dumps her in the Big Easy, never to be seen again.
Until three years later, that is, when Nicky is hired to pull a con for a billionaire Formula One racing team owner, and Jess shows up as the owner’s girlfriend. Old feelings are rekindled, and Nicky suddenly feels the need to try and win back the woman he abandoned in New Orleans, while at the same time working for her boyfriend.
There are a couple of mild twists along the way, but nothing unpredictable as long as you keep at least one eye on the screen at all time. And it is right here, in the storytelling, where “Focus” takes the fork in the road that leaves “good” behind while still managing to be entertaining.
Most of the film is set in Brazil, which doesn’t really matter from a storytelling standpoint. But when Nicky gets into his car at the airport, the steering wheel is on the left side of the car, which seemed wrong to me. And it turns out that the story in “Focus” is so meaningless and contrived, I spent nearly a third of the film wondering if they had shot the Brazil scenes on location in L.A. and simply forgot to switch the drivers seat, or if Brazilians actually drive on the right side of the road. And still, I was able to be perfectly entertained by the film, even while immediately forgetting 80 percent of the dialogue.
The heist scenes are tightly shot and exciting. Robbie makes for compelling eye candy, and Smith is in great shape himself, still capable of being relatively charismatic when he wants to be. So it is indeed perfectly possible to go to “Focus” and walk out happy. But the plot is so dependent upon a couple of extremely convenient plot holes and coincidences that any kind of serious examination will make it fall apart like a wet Kleenex. That is the point where people will tell you “it’s just a movie.” Well, yeah. But it is not a very good one. CV