Focus is a caper that offers a challenge to the viewer. It dares you to try to follow along with its constant twists, double crosses, fakeouts, staged events and sneaky tactics at getting rich. You can try to tag along with the ever-bouncing plot that refuses to halt with the surprises right up until the last scene. At some point you just have to throw your hands up in the air at how constant and ludicrous the film becomes with its gotcha moments. But, like any caper, there’s enough pleasing elements to the eye that offer a welcome divergence from the plot.
Nicky (Will Smith) is an expert con man so familiar with the scam game that he willingly throws himself into traps just to see how far the scammers can get. When Jess (Margot Robbie) tries to pull the jealous boyfriend bit where she hires an actor to threaten Smith’s character, Nicky merely laughs at the execution having seen it many times. Intrigued by her determination for tricking others, Nicky decides to take on Jess as a sort of con job apprentice. He trains her in the fine art of always keeping the eyes open for areas to exploit and swipe from unsuspecting victims. He puts her to the ultimate test by keeping her out of the loop on a wagering game he performs at a football game where he seems to be losing millions of dollars. But Nicky ultimately wins a big payout thanks to a ridiculously intricate plan of subconscious suggestion.
The two part ways after the gig, but find themselves crossing paths while working on a con job for a race car driver. From this point the movie becomes a guessing game of who is playing who, who is in love with who and who is staging which events. Similar to both the title and Nicky’s tactics, this is a caper that dares you to keep your eye focused on the plot with so much flash going on around it. If you follow closely, you’ll start to see how ridiculous such a story becomes for twist after twist after twist until the story has tied a messy knot of money, deception and sex.
But, thankfully, Focus tries to distract the viewer with lots of shiny. The set pieces of stylish hotels and rich interiors give a perfect backdrop for the effective acting talent of Smith and Robbie. They have a unique chemistry on-screen for their teacher/student relationship that coyly develops into a romance where they’re not too sure if such a thing can exist in their line of work. And their schemes – for as ridiculously intricate as they’re conceived – are actually fun to follow in how they attempt to play gotcha with your perceptions. It may be a mess of twists and turns, but it’s a sleek and sexy mess that never bores.
Focus entertains with a handful of surprises, even if the surprises cause a few plot holes. Let’s face it, though; the real reason for this movie is to see Smith and Robbie together and they’re certainly the best aspect of this caper movie. This is a decent rental for some lightly sly thrills that’s refreshing for a first viewing, but not as strong on its second to warrant a purchase.