Focus (R)

Drama 104 min. February 27, 2015
By Amy Nicholson
If Grace Kelly had been raised by coyotes, she might have stalked the screen like Focus's Margot Robbie, a va-va-voom blonde with bite. Only once every half-dozen years does a new actress jolt the screen like a taser, paralyzing the audience into waiting in their seats for the credits to find out the name of that girl. Robbie will have to royally screw up to avoid becoming a movie star -- say, shooting smack with Justin Bieber while stomping on puppies.

Focus is a bright trifle that shows her off like a canary diamond. She plays Jess Barrett, a small-time shakedown artist who sets up men in bars by luring them to her bedroom, where her "boyfriend" pops out with a gun. Eventually, she hooks up with the Bill Gates of bamboozling: Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith). Too bad that everything is amped up and unnatural: Nicky and Jess's crisp zingers, the briefcases of cash people casually tote, our mounting suspicion that we can't trust a frame of what's onscreen. These two are fated to lie to each other until the credits roll or they collapse in exhaustion.

Focus is Smith's effort to remind audiences that he's not just a hero -- he's a man. A man who likes boobs. Onscreen, he and Robbie have an unusual spark. In the bedroom, Robbie dutifully coils around him like a snake. She nearly makes the scenes work, but if you don't totally buy it, that's OK, too: Writer/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love.) have carved so many switchbacks into the script that even Nicky and Jess can't tell when they're telling the truth.
Glenn Ficarra, John Requa Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, Gerald McRaney Glenn Ficarra, John Requa Denise Di Novi Warner Bros. Pictures

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