Yes, yes – all you Upper Valley intellectuals are already saying to yourself “it’s sleight of hand: don’t you know that?”. But wait. Could I be making a (not so) clever play on words to suggest that Will Smith’s latest film, ‘Focus’ is not quite the caper that it is cracked up to be? An effort so slight – as in ‘small, modest or negligible’ – that we barely register the fact that our wallets are lighter and our time has been wasted?
The film is all about sleight of hand – a band of pick pockets and con artists distracting you to ‘focus’ over there while I pick you clean over here. But I think that the concept is apt to describe the film. Smith is just running the same con on the movie-goer: focus on my charm over there, or the lovely Margot Robbie in a bikini over here, while I pick your pocket of whatever it cost you to get into the theater. Well, ‘fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me’ – and this is now twice that we have been fooled by Mr. Smith (does anyone even remember ‘After Earth’?). Shame on me.
If I sound pretty bitter here, in fact I am. I actually really like Will Smith, and have come to expect so much more. He has a causal charm and charisma that will normally carry a film. I readily admit that I will stop to watch ‘Hitch’, ‘Enemy of the State’ or ‘Men in Black’ -- even ‘Independence Day’ or ‘Bad Boys II’ (did I really just admit that?) when they show up on my cable guide. And Margot Robbie showed great promise in ‘Wolf of Wall Street’. But both are plagued by a script that wants to be ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ – but isn’t; a cast that wants to be Clooney, Pitt and Roberts, et al. – but isn’t; and locations that want to be Vegas or Rome – and aren’t. On top of that, while Smith has had great chemistry with his partners before, this one just doesn’t play. The relationship is unnatural – too earnest, too forced and too distant. It just doesn’t engage the audience. And finally, there is no over-arching theme to the film – it is just a series of vignettes in different places, without much continuity.
So is there any redeeming social value to ‘Focus’? Hmmm, good question. There are some interesting insights into the psychology of pickpockets and con artists. If you plan to get into that line of work, this film might be a good starting point. And if you are a psychology student, there are some interesting perspectives on the power of subliminal suggestion: the team’s con of an inveterate gambler and the flashback of just how they pulled it off is fun to watch. Gerald McRaney provides a nice study in how to play the tough guy. And now I am beginning to run out….
Frankly, wait until this one comes around on cable – and I doubt you will have to wait very long. It’s just not worth the $8 and the two hours. Which is disappointing. Here is a well-known star, an emerging actress, an interesting premise, and some potentially lovely locations. Unfortunately it all adds up to much less than the sum of its parts.
Enough said. I will go in search of something better this weekend!