For almost 20 years Will Smith has been one of the biggest movie stars in Hollywood history by managing to do a lot of things at once. He had the ability to pick proper summer film projects, maximize his strengths while never taking significant risks as an actor. It’s the one thing that has marked Smith’s career; his biggest risk was that he never played any other character besides a generic “Will Smith” excluding his Oscar nominated portrayal of Muhammad Ali in Michael Mann’s Ali. At some point his ability to bring out an audience had to end.
Focus, which didn’t cross $20 million in its opening weekend gross, is the first film to truly mark the decline of Will Smith the movie star. He’s made bad films before; he just hasn’t made a bad film that opened as limply as this one.
Simple premise. Nicky (Smith) runs a ring of thieves that hit major sporting events. They aren’t after the big score; they’re after enough small ones to evade notice. When he runs into a small time grifter (Margot Robbie) trying to pull a con on him, she finds him irresistible and wants an education in crime. Joining his outfit, the two embark upon a romantic relationship as a well as a professional one. Moving from New Orleans to Argentina, the stakes rise as the film tries to be a great con movie and a great romantic comedy but fails at both.
The problem with the film begins and ends with the chemistry between its leads. This is a film that demands its leads have explosive sexual chemistry that radiates through the screen. Robbie and Smith have good chemistry, enough to carry the film, but this isn’t a romantic comedy on its own. This is a caper film where its leads need that explosive chemistry that radiates through the screen, to propel the narrative and make us want to see them get together at the end. Con films with romantic leads in them need explosive chemistry, something that radiates off the screen, much like any genre film meshed with a romantic comedy. It’s not enough to just have good chemistry.
It has to have amazing chemistry and this film doesn’t have it.
Otherwise it’s a fairly pedestrian film, with a couple of plot twists towards the end that are fairly predictable because they’re out of left field, that is at this point almost beneath Smith as an actor. This is a generic con film, something that would’ve gone direct to video without Smith in it.
Writer/Director(s): Glenn Ficarra, John Requa Notable Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Gerald McRaney, Adrian Martinez, Rodrigo Santoro, BD Wong
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.