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Focus (2/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 105 minutes

Not for children.

Why does anybody makes a piece of putrid porridge like this? That it fails to measure up is no surprise, considering the people responsible, writers/directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who wrote the deplorable Billy Bob Thornton vehicle Bad Santa (2003).

Apparently almost every actor in Hollywood turned down the starring role until it was finally offered to Will Smith. First Ryan Gosling, then Brad Pitt declined, then Ben Affleck. Women ran away from it, too. It was first going to Emma Stone, then Kristen Stewart. After Stewart bowed out, Michelle Williams, Jessica Biel, Rose Byrne, and Olivia Munn were considered before Margot Robbie, who is known mostly for taking off all her clothes in The Wolf of Wall Street, jumped at the chance. What a pairing, Will and Margot!

This movie needs a lot to make it work, but the basic premise is that Smith and Robbie are strongly attracted to one another and are madly in love. So it’s deadly when there isn’t a scintilla of chemistry between the two actors. In fact their love scenes are so excruciatingly awful one wants to turn away and look elsewhere until the scenes change.

Worse than the acting, though, is the ludicrous plot that has Smith perform feats of sleight of hand that would be beyond Bob Arno’s talent. There is a scene at the beginning in which Smith steals one thing after another from Robbie and she is just overwhelmed, “Golly, gee, how did you do that?” Of course what he does can only be done in a movie. But Will is intended to be a con man; what’s the point of establishing him as a pickpocket if the point of the film is that he’s a con man? Oh, well, what the hey, credibility is the least of Ficarra and Requa’s concerns.

Probably the most offensive part of the movie is that it obviously thinks it is just oh, so clever. But most of the repartee falls flat, either because the lines are banal or because Smith and Robbie are not up to sharp dialogue, probably both. They look like Channing Tatum and Marilyn Monroe trying to plod through the quick-witted dialogue of As You Like It, the thought of which nauseates me. But even Christopher Plummer and Vanessa Redgrave (whom I saw in that Shakespeare play in Stratford in 1961) couldn’t make this script come alive. Even so, Will and Margot make it immeasurably worse than it must appear on the written page.

Smith and Robbie mouth lines that fall far short of being funny or clever, perform deeds that strain credulity beyond the breaking point, and engage in preposterous situations, leading up to an ending that is worse than absurd.