Will Smith used to own July 4th weekend, but after a few embarrassing misfires, he’s making late February his new home. A $50 million dollar opening weekend is a pipe dream, but the good news is that Smith seems to be playing the confident charmer that won us over in the first place. In Focus, directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love), he plays a smooth operator who can’t help himself from taking a comely beauty (The Wolf of Wall Street’s Margot Robbie) under his wing, to teach her the art of the con.
But as is the case in these types of movies—think The Sting or The Grifters—things are not always what they seem. And nothing makes a man lose his focus more than a beautiful woman. “The movie’s essentially split into two halves,” writes EW’s Chris Nashawaty. “The first is Jess’ babe-in-the-woods baptism into Nicky’s ring-a-ding world of vice—a world that seems surprisingly free of real danger. He introduces her to his colorful posse of criminal oddballs—such as the hulking and harmlessly lewd Farhad (Adrian Martinez)—and teaches her how to pick pockets on Bourbon Street during Super Bowl weekend. Jess turns out to be such a quick study, Nicky knows he’s doomed.”
You could do worse at the movie theater on Feb. 27 than this kind of stylish caper. Focus just might be the hottest, most summery thing going in parts of the country with snow on the ground.
Read more from EW’s review, as well as a roundup of other notable critics, below.
Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)
“What keeps the film humming along as smoothly as it does is the chemistry and charisma of its leads. It’s been a while since Smith was given a role as charming and loose as Nicky. Maybe as far back as Men in Black II. And here, as he takes in all of the angles sizing up a potential mark, he radiates the same unflusterable Cary Grant cool that once made him the biggest box office draw on the planet. When he opens his mouth, out pour jazzy arias of Soderberghian wise-guy patter. It’s a gas to see that guy again.”
A.O. Scott (New York Times)
“Focus is not the kind of movie that uses an underworld setting to explore the complexities of human behavior. It’s not quite Elmore Leonard for Dummies—maybe more like Carl Hiaasen for Shallow People. Which is no terrible thing. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who wrote and directed the film together, were also responsible for Crazy, Stupid, Love. Both movies are cleverly constructed and smart enough to wander away from their jigsaw-puzzle plots in pursuit of odd moods, comic riffs and half-baked subplots.”
Peter Debruge (Variety)
“[Ficarra and Requa] have studied not only how con men operate, but also the best of the genre … channeling the sultry, smooth-jazz vibe of Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight from the opening scene. That’s the tone they’re going for here: Elmore Leonard novel meets Sharper Image catalog.”
Ann Hornaday (Washington Post)
“There’s much to be said for a film that doesn’t overreach, delivers on most of its promises and gets the audience out the door in just over an hour and a half. As Smith’s character, Nicky, might say: In, out, nobody gets hurt.”
Ty Burr (Boston Globe)
“There’s a terrific popcorn movie in Focus—a con-game romantic comedy that bubbles along on a playful high and that keeps the audience guessing in a state of delighted suspension of disbelief. Unfortunately, that movie is over after 40 minutes, and Focus still has another hour or so to go. Con-artist movies are themselves a form of hustle, with filmmakers challenged to play tricky but fair and the audience challenged to keep up. This one … is much better at the short game than the long con.”
Liam Lacey (Toronto Globe and Mail)
“Focus … is drunk on its perfume-ad cinematography and doesn’t know when to quit with its double-double cross plotting. Most of the movie evaporates from the mind with the closing credits, except for the likeable leads, who don’t so much have romantic chemistry as friendly parity: Robbie is one of those performers who seems to always be on full alert and you cannot keep your eyes off her when she’s on the screen. Smith is now a grizzled pro in his mid-40s, negotiating his way down from superhero to human.”
Wesley Morris (Grantland)
“At 46, Smith’s been around long enough to know how to turn negative traits into virtues, how to be adorable under many circumstances, how to perfect a kind of audience con. What I feared in the last seven years (a phoned-in Men in Black sequel notwithstanding) is that Smith had gone earnest, that he couldn’t have any more fun. Focus isn’t a full return to brilliance but a welcome stop, hopefully, on the way there.”
Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times) ▲
“As things get messier and more complicated, Focus strays from the plausible to only-in-the-movies. The big reveal at the end would have worked better if we haven’t seen variations on it in at least a half-dozen movies. Still, Smith gives one of his best performances in years…”
Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle) ▼
“But the emotional core of the movie, the relationship between Nicky and Jess, lacks impact, mostly because you can’t believe a word that they say, but also because Smith is not a strong leading man. Smith’s idea of playing romance is to act cool, and his idea of playing cool is to act withdrawn and serious. That means the eclipse of the thing that made him a movie star in the first place, his personality.”
Betsy Sharkey (Los Angeles Times)
“When it comes to charm, his is substantial, hers is effervescent. She’s a perfect match for the most romantic role we’ve seen from Smith. Their chemistry is so combustible the only question is: What took Hollywood so long?”
Richard Corliss (TIME)
“Suggesting a modern Grace Kelly who wears her libido on the outside, and is a bit more self-conscious in her scheming, Robbie is really closer to a high-end knockoff of the young Michelle Pfeiffer. But that’s O.K. too: it adds to the film’s playful sense that everything, including star quality, is a con.”
Length: 105 minutes
Starring Will Smith, Margot Robbie
Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
Distributor: Warner Bros.