Will Smith has had a rough couple of years, with the failure of “After Earth” lingering longer than the success of “Men in Black 3. But with “Focus,” he looks like he might be ready to right the course of his career. The con man movie, starring Smith and Margot Robbie as his protege/love interest, might be coming in late February, but it might be the best vehicle for him in some time.
Early reviews for “Focus” are mixed, with most critics agreeing that it’s flashy and entertaining for a while but splitting on whether the film’s third-act gambit (a three-year flash-forward) works or undermines the film’s fun by pulling the rug out from under the audience too many times. But several reviews have lauded the two leads, with special praise reserved for Smith, more relaxed and confident here than he’s been in years. “Focus” probably isn’t going to stand out as more than a modest entertainment, but if it shows signs of the Smith to come, it’s well worth it.
“Focus” opens in theaters February 27.
Peter Debruge, Variety
Every movie star is a con artist of sorts, seducing audiences into forking over millions by adopting a character bigger than him- or herself. But what to do when the streak falters? Will Smith made his film debut as a high-society scammer in “Six Degrees of Separation,” and now, a bit more than 21 years later, he’s back at the hustle in “Focus,” a sexy sleight-of-hand caper that feels small-time by the tentpole king’s standards, though a solid opening ought to prove Smith’s ongoing drawing power — and that there is life after the commercial debacle of 2013’s “After Earth.” Lithely directed by the duo responsible for “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” this suave if quick-to-dissipate divertissement shrewdly recasts the star in the George Clooney mold — a good look for the next stage of Smith’s career. Read more.
Tim Grierson, Screen Daily
The pleasure of a conman movie can also be its limitation: The audience knows full well it’s being duped. “Focus” pointedly illustrates the genre’s double-edged-sword appeal, offering a stylish, consistently diverting romantic caper that, nonetheless, leaves you feeling that you’ve been jerked around without sufficient payoff. Will Smith and Margot Robbie are suitably attractive as lovers who are never sure if they can trust one another, but “Focus” is all surface pizzazz, its who’s-foolin’-who? tease less enticing than the filmmakers realize. Read more.
Jordan Hoffman, The Guardian
If the projector broke after the New Orleans job and I stopped watching there, I’d be over the moon about this picture. Unfortunately, after a “three years later” card we meet up with Nicky in Buenos Aires as he starts planning a con involving a car race. He isn’t trying to steal, but to infiltrate an opposing team and slip them a thingamajig that will lead them to think they have an edge, but will actually do just the opposite. It’s a little confusing, and gets more so when characters from the past keep showing up. Read more.
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
Rather, “Focus” occupies an uncertain middle ground between a lark and a caper with serious underpinnings. The writers trot out sordid backstory about Nicky’s father and grandfather that’s supposed to explain his go-his-own-way behavior, but the baggage seems to oppress Smith as well, to keep him from being as funny and fun to be around as before; here, the actor feels older, less spirited. This also diminishes any desire one might have for Jess to end up with Nicky, no matter what the script may intend. Nicky might be the zen master of con artists and believably becomes an awe-inspiring combination teacher/lover for Jess. But a good prospect for long term mate? One would bet against it. Read more.
James Rocchi, The Wrap
Smith has always been easy to watch, but it’s worth noting that Smith can bottom out in a film that’s too shallow even for him (“Hitch”) or get drowned in material too dark and deep (“After Earth”). Smith is at his best when he’s balancing on the line between cool and clueless, between triumph and failure, between getting away with it and getting found out. Ficarra and Requa get that, and they use it. Read more.
Matt Singer, ScreenCrush
Robbie more than proves her star-making turn in “The Wolf of Wall Street” was no fluke, but ultimately this is Will Smith’s — or “Will Smith”’s — film, and he owns every frame of it. This is the guy we want to watch. We don’t want to see him brooding in the ruins of New York City, or doing weird things with jellyfish, or telling his obnoxious teenage son to take a knee. We want that relaxed confidence — a con man is nothing without it. Nicky claims at one point that he can talk someone in doing anything. When this Will Smith says it, I believe it. Read more.
Keith Uhlich, The L Magazine
The double-crosses and deceptions pile up (none too convincingly) and the movie goes irreparably slack—a problem that also plagued Ficara and Requa’s relationship comedy “Crazy Stupid Love,” which, similarly, began boisterously and then turned irritatingly sluggish. Swindler cinema is only as good as its architecture; once the big picture is revealed, viewers should be thrilled at having had one pulled over on them. “Focus,” sadly, leaves you feeling bilked. Read more.