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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Review: Smith and Robbie duo out of ‘Focus’


    Kramer & Sigman Films

    In one of the first scenes of “Focus,” pro con man Nicky (Will Smith) is teaching newbie Jess (Margot Robbie) some of the tricks of the trade. With her hand in his, he slowly twirls her around in a faux dance, lifting up her watch at the end of a turn having successfully taken it without her having the slightest idea. Just as soon as she’s put the watch away after he’s given it back to her, he lifts up her ring, another prize for his imperceptible sleight of hand.

    “At the end of the day, this is a game of focus,” Nicky instructs Jess. “The human brain is slow, and it cannot multitask.”

    For the next half-minute, Nicky effortlessly runs circles around Jess, taking her keys and then her purse.

    Unfortunately, the film is not this smooth, and unfortunately, the audience is not so slow and incapable of multitasking to not perceive the glaring, gaping flaws in this fly-by-night operation. This film is not “The Prestige,” nor is it even “Now You See Me,” two very different, and more successful, films that mislead your attention in this direction, while they conjure up something in your blind spot.

    “Focus” chooses to hide all of its parlor tricks off-screen, a cardinal sin of the genre. 

    Jess, who happens to be a natural at this racket, has been accepted on to Nicky’s team of elite pickpocketers for a massive haul of a weekend. They are in New Orleans for the Super Bowl, or whatever the knock-off Super Bowl was called because they couldn’t get the rights from the NFL.

    Nicky and Jess find themselves in a suite for the game and start making harmless bets. A drunk businessman with deep pockets, Liyuan (BD Wong), wants in on the fun. He keeps getting the best of Nicky, and Nicky, who has a gambling problem, isn’t about to let someone get the better of him. The bets escalate from $1,000 to $10,000, all the way up to a scale-tipping sum of $2.2 million.

    The scene is rife with potential. Nicky has placed all of the weekend’s earnings, money that belongs to all the hardworking members of his team of thieves. Jess desperately pleads with him to stop, while the businessman cheers him on through inebriated grins and giggles. It seems like the protagonist’s critical flaw will plunge him to rock bottom. It’s exhilarating.

    Then, he wins the $2.2 million bet, which had Liyuan choosing a single football player’s number on the field, and then Jess having to pick the same exact number. Yes, the odds are ludicrous, but the reason behind how Jess was able to pick the same number as Liyuan is even more ridiculous.

    As Nicky instructs Jess as well as the audience, he and his team had been subliminally conditioning Liyuan to the number 55 over the course of the weekend. The clues were not hiding in plain sight in front of the audience’s face; they were simply not there to be picked up on.

    Halfway through the movie, at around the 50-minute mark, Nicky suddenly and unceremoniously says sayonara to Jess and their burgeoning romantic relationship. The sincere chemistry between Robbie and Smith provided one of the very few highlights. The film then inexplicably jumps three years into the future and becomes a different story entirely.

    Nicky is now in Buenos Aires, Argentina, positioning himself to help a rich racecar team owner beat an opposing team by providing misleading car schematics. 

    In another instance of the audience being told instead of shown, Nicky says that his gambling problem made him run out of money; again, this all happened off screen. The first half of the film is rendered virtually inconsequential by the second half. Talk about a split focus.

    Everything culminates in a climax of explanatory revelations, with first Nicky telling Jess how he conned her, and then Jess telling Nicky how she conned him, and then a crotchety old white man telling everybody that he conned them all and that he’s actually Nicky’s father. 

    However, it is the audience who was conned the worst. We didn’t even need to be bamboozled and pickpocketed; we willingly reached into our pockets and gave up our own money for this cheap trick.

    Grade: D+


    Follow Alex Guyton on Twitter.

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