Friday 20 October 2017

Focus review: Thriller drowns in its attempts to be the next Ocean's Eleven

George Byrne

Focus - Thriller. Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, B.D. Wong, Gerard McRaney, Robert Taylor. Directed by John Requa and Glenn Ficcara. Cert 15A

It can frequently be a bad omen for a movie when a particular project has been knocking around Hollywood for several years, with several stars attached but subsequently citing 'scheduling problems' as a reason for dropping out.

In the case of Focus, from the writing/direction team of John Requa and Glenn Ficcara, names associated with the high-concept hustle caper included Ryan Reynolds, Emma Stone and Kristen Stewart so one would imagine that the originators were only too happy to have Will Smith's star power come on board but I doubt that they're too happy now.

Requa and Ficcara come with an impressive CV, featuring Crazy Stupid Love, Bad Santa and I Love You, Philip Morris. In a glossily-shot New York, Nicky (Smith) appears to strike it lucky with Jess (Margot Robbie) only to discover he's been the target of a classic 'honey pot' con but, sad for Jess and her accomplice, Nicky is a con artist himself.

Cut to New Orleans where Nicky and his large crew appear to be preparing a major scam surrounding the Superbowl, when Jess turns up and is asked to join them. Now, the essence of any good con caper is that the mark has to be some ultra-wealthy person who's done something terrible and gets their come-uppance in the end.

However, the mistake Focus makes is that before an elaborate ruse can be perpetrated on an Oriental gambler (B.D.Wong) Nicky's gang revel in ripping off normal tourists who just happen to be in town for the game.

Wallets, rings, watches and necklaces are nicked with glee, ATM machines tampered with and credit cards are skimmed. And we're supposed to root for these people? They may as well have made a film about a gang of dippers on the Dart.

With that essential connection between characters and audience irreparably broken, Focus just lurches from one improbable set-piece to the next, most of the finale involving some sort of Formula 1 lark in Buenos Aires.

Smith has undoubted charisma but we're beyond caring by halfway through, while his on/off romance with Robbie lacks any chemistry whatsoever.

Focus likes to think it's following in the tradition of the Ocean's movies but it's really not even up to the average episode of Hustle.

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