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Movie Night – 'Focus' has plot twists, turns to keep viewers wondering (March 11, 2015 issue)

Cool, clever, and sexy. Those words have been used to describe “Focus,” the new Will Smith movie in theaters. While they are accurate, there’s a better way to describe the movie: Nothing is what it seems.
Jess (Margot Robbie) is a low-level con artist. She lures men to her hotel room until her “husband” bursts through the door to confront the unsuspecting man. At that point the man will do anything to get out of that room alive, including giving up all his money. Jess meets her match when she tries to con Nicky (Will Smith). Nicky doesn’t fall for her trap.
Nicky is a sophisticated, professional con artist. After realizing that she made a mistake by trying to con Nicky, Jess begs him to teach her, to show her the ways of his shadowy world. Reluctantly, Nicky teaches her a few things that night. He teaches her how to steal watches, wallets, and rings. The key, Nicky tells her, is focus. Draw the focus of the mark away from the theft and, most importantly, never lose your focus.
Nicky heads to New Orleans a few weeks before the city hosts the Super Bowl. Thousands of tourists will soon be flooding into the city in advance of the big game. That many people means there will be many opportunities for Nicky and his crew to take their money. Jess tracks Nicky down in New Orleans and, after passing a few rudimentary tests, Nicky lets Jess join his crew.
Nicky and Jess quickly strike up a romance in New Orleans. Nicky is breaking a cardinal rule for a man in his line of work, you can have relationships but never let someone into your heart. His father, who schooled him in the ways of deceit, always told him that there’s no room for matters of the heart for a con artist. Those types of emotions are what get you killed.
The marks in New Orleans are mostly small game, a wallet here, a credit card there. Jess wants in on a big score, the one where everyone buys a yacht and retires to a tropical beach. Nicky tells Jess that type of con doesn’t exist, it’s like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster, it’s a myth. Does Jess believe him? Do you?
There’s much more to the story but there will be no spoilers here. The plot twists and turns and keeps you guessing. What is real? What is an illusion? Those are the thoughts that run through your mind during the movie. In the end, you won’t know what is real, and that’s the best part of the movie.
Will Smith is very good as the con man with a heart of stone. He is convincing enough to trick you at least a few times. But even though Will Smith is the big name to get people into the theater, it feels more like Margot Robbie is the real star of “Focus.” Maybe it’s because she is on her way up in the movie business and Smith looks like he may be on his way down. Regardless, after the bomb that was “After Earth” and a small role as Lucifer in the truly terrible “Winter’s Tale,” Will Smith has to be pleased that “Focus” is a hit. Gerald McCoy of “Simon and Simon” fame has a nice turn as a ruthless bodyguard of a racing tycoon.
My only criticism with the movie is that it glorifies the act of stealing. We’re not talking about stealing $10 million from a billionaire, we’re talking about money out of the pockets of normal middle-class citizens. It just doesn’t sit right with me.
Otherwise, the movie is entertaining. The locales (New Orleans and Buenos Aires) are picturesque and the action moves at a brisk pace. You have to “focus” to see everything that’s happening. Unless you want to be their next mark.
Grade: B+
Rated R for language, some sexual content, and brief violence.