by Adam Riske
I did not have a good time watching Focus. In fact, the movie left me annoyed. I think 10 percent of my displeasure with the experience had to do with the fact that I was seeing the movie on a lousy blind date but the majority was the movie’s fault. It’s a lethargic drag when it should have been breezy fun. A movie like this, about con-men (and women), can be a showcase for charismatic stars and directors with some bravado, but with Focus it never quite works despite the ingredients seemingly being there.
Full disclosure – I’m not the biggest fan of movies about con artists. Some, like Catch Me If You Can or Matchstick Men, really work because they are primarily character studies where you get to know (and even like) the flawed protagonists. It’s about them more than the con. But more often than not, con artist movies seem hell-bent on being clever above all else and it becomes a game between the audience and the filmmakers of who’s smarter. The audience wins if they figure out the con before the movie gets to the big reveal, while the director and writers (in an effort to surprise the audience) often cheat or include impossible scenarios in an attempt to win and make sure the audience doesn’t anticipate the surprises. Focus primarily fits in the latter category.
The reason most people will see Focus (like me) is because of the two lead actors – Will Smith and Margot Robbie. It’s competent but disappointing work by the pair. Smith, who I desperately want to see in a good movie again, has more to play and is closer to a three dimensional character than Robbie’s Jess. Nicky is a third-generation career con artist with a gambling problem and also a compulsive liar. With all that baggage, the character is a drag. Smith is an underrated dramatic actor but he can only do so much with such a wet noodle of a character. He has moments where he’s allowed to be charming, but surprisingly those actually work less than his serious moments. His cool guy act feels, maybe for the first time, outdated, like a relic of the 1990s than doesn’t have a place anymore.
There’s one performance though that really drove me up the wall. It’s from Gerald McRaney (Major Dad) who plays one character’s bodyguard/enforcer of sorts. I don’t want to be unkind, but his performance bugged me on such a fundamental level that I have to comment on it. It’s just dreadful. I wanted to fast forward the movie every time he showed up. He’s given what is supposed to be colorful dialogue but his delivery is so stiff and ham-fisted that listening to him deliver it is like being hit in the ear with a bag of porcupines and lead pipes. It’s as if someone cast their dad, who’s never acted, and told him to improv being grumpy. OMG is it terrible.
Also pretty bad is the screenwriting. It’s the type of movie that tries to be funny but never lands a joke and consistently insults your intelligence. Some of the details of the cons are so far-fetched and coincidental that you would have to believe that elements A through Y would take place for the result Z to happen. I can buy imperfections after I watch a movie, but they shouldn’t be in such plain sight during my viewing experience. It’s annoying. There are also stupid details, like Smith’s team of con artists consisting of, like, 30 people for a heist that nets them $1.2 million. That’s $40K each? Doesn’t seem worth the effort to me. Also, wouldn’t you think it would be difficult to have to control that many disreputable people at one time?
The Expendables 2 podcast, it’s a case of a beautiful woman taking off her dress only to turn around and show you her dick.
I wanted to have a good time at Focus. But instead of being fun, the movie is mostly just boring. The energy really sags in the second half, causing the 105 minute runtime to feel like 150 minutes. After I Love You Phillip Morris (which I liked), Crazy, Stupid, Love (which I didn’t) and now Focus, directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa are establishing themselves as being filmmakers interested in stories about people playing games or performing in their real lives. It’s an interesting through-line; I just wish I enjoyed their movies more. They should have more BD Wong in them.
What did your blind date think?ReplyDelete
I don't think she liked it much either.Delete
This review perfectly sums up how I feel about this movie...even though I only saw the trailer...once.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the review, Adam. I couldn't be more disinterested in seeing two of the most uninteresting actors around.ReplyDelete
Watched it tonight - my original statement stands. Two of the most bland actors around. And the story? I need to watch Mamet's "House of Games" to rinse the supernatural ridiculousness out of my mouth. I finally got to see BD Wong curse though!!!Delete
Dude this perfectly sums up my exact feelings about this movie. I also quite enjoyed the Super Bowl scene, which made me uncomfortable and tense, but you're right once it gets into the details it's like wait what?ReplyDelete
The second half annoyed the shit out of me and I just wanted it to finally end and tell me what was going on and by that time I didn't care anymore and the reveal is total garbage. I mean really really stupid. I also hated major dad and some of the dialogue spoken by him and that heavy set character really rubbed me the wrong way. It was vulgar but trying to be funny but it wasnt funny so it just came off as incredibly sleazy. I could feel the screenwriter thinking they were so clever with some of the bantery dialogue but most of it was very clunky and the parts that worked only worked because the 2 leads willed it to work.
Also by the hundredth time I saw a wallet or necklace or some other item lifted off someone I got very bored and just wanted them to stop. But Margot Robbie... My dear god is there a more beautiful woman on this entire planet? She's so gorgeous it's distracting. Wish she actually had a character to play.
One last thing theres a scene thats actually part of the trailer where one of the bad guys goes into a store buys a mouthguard and neckbrace and some other safety items just so he can protect himself while ramming his car at full speed into will smiths car stopping him from getting away. its like dude youre a professional, you couldnt figure out a less complicated way to stop them from getting away? you just fucked yourself and your car up with this elaborate plan of yours.
Anyways great review as always sir. Sorry your date didn't go so well. Plenty of fish in the sea and all that.
It's disappointing to hear that about Gerald McRaney. I recently watched Deadwood and loved his performance in that.ReplyDelete
Then again, he was also in Red Tails.
"Simon and Simon" for life - F! "Major Dad".Delete
What, no love for Jameson Parker? That dude's mustache owned "Prince of Darkness." ;-)Delete
Haha, awesome :)Delete
That was my first thought on hearing Major Dad sucked too, Chris - loved his performance as a quietly menacing psychopath in Deadwood.Delete
Sol, I love how we grew to hate the guy and the show just ended.Delete
I can never get past 20 year age gaps between leads..it just bothers me no end.ReplyDelete
But what if the true love between the characters comes across? Like Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam in "Emma" or Gregory Peck and Lee Remick in "The Omen"? I get the age difference yuck (though it happens a lot in the real world, though not as much as in movies), but when the actors and the script/director sells it well age differences are inconsequential. Just wish there were more Ashton Kutchers falling in love with Demi Moores (actors in real life as well as characters in movies and TV) to even out the huge imbalance now tilting toward the other side.Delete
Yeah, in spite of whatever monstrous behaviour lead to him having kids like J&J, I'm rooting for Will Smith to be in a good movie as well. You know, like, Django Unchained or something like that (idiot!). I am not surprised this one's a flop - sorry your blind date was as well!ReplyDelete
And agreed: More Wong is always right!