It’s no Ocean’s Eleven or Duplicity, but Focus is the kind of escapist grifter movie that goes down easy.
Margot Robbie and Will Smith in Focus
No profession gets more flatteringly upsold on screen than that of the con artist. There's every possibility that the life of an actual career grifter is one of clammy desperation and sociopathic predation, built on bilking money out of the most vulnerable. But in the movies (and on shows like White Collar), scammers frequently look glorious, swanning through the lobbies of high-end hotels and swank casinos in sleek designer wear, wheeling and dealing to rob only the deserving — the cruel, the greedy, the arrogant, the criminal, and the corporations covered by insurance. There's honor among thieves, a community, a shared lingo. On screen, conning gets to be a craft, or more accurately, a magic trick in which the audience gets to witness the setup but still be surprised by the payoff when it turns out there's another layer to the con we never saw coming.
Focus, the new film starring Will Smith and Margot Robbie and written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love.), takes place in that rarified realm of high-thread-count sheets and last-minute twists. It tips its hat to Out of Sight, the lighter-than-air likes of Ocean's Eleven, The Sting, and Trouble in Paradise, and the spies-turned-corporate-moles in Duplicity. Focus, which hits theaters on Feb. 27, doesn't work as well as any of them, but it's still a perfectly pretty meringue of a movie that offers a nice showcase for Smith's movie star allure and a better one of Robbie, who more than keeps up with her more famous romantic lead, even when her character doesn't.
The action starts in New York, where the experienced Nicky (Will Smith) takes newbie Jess (Margot Robbie) under his wing, then heads to New Orleans for some Super Bowl-adjacent scams, at which point Nicky dumps his protégé after they become involved. Three years later, we pick up in a plush slice of Buenos Aires, where there's a race car team owner named Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro), a proprietary fuel burn algorithm, and the reuniting of the former lovers and colleagues, who aren't sure if they trust each other anymore.