Focus

Director: Glenn Ficarra & John Requa (2015)

Using the glossy glow of its stars and dazzling colour palette, this stupid and sexist heist movie tries to distract our focus from its failings.

In a buddy movie without a buddy, there’s no intelligence, danger, tension, fun or sexual frisson. Jokes fall flat from a 1980’s throwback of a script with Will Smith‘s once assured delivery the most culpable.

With no-one to riff off he delivers an unusually tired performance from a self-satisfied script. It works like patchwork not clockwork and seems stitched together from other films, all better than this one.

Incompetent pickpocket Jess (Margot Robbie) fails to hustle super-slick conman Nicky (Smith). It’s hard to tell whether Jess is playing dumb or simply dumb.

Nicky explains that a successful con relies like a magic trick on distracting the victim’s focus. One of his cons is strikingly similar to the work of British illusionist Derren Brown.

Persuading Nicky to mentor her, Jess joins his huge crew of high-living con-men as they fleece unsuspecting tourists in New Orleans. We’re supposed to be impressed by their flash tricks as they callously steal wallets, cameras, phones and watches from ordinary people.

Jess and Nicky share an over-abundance of banter but no chemistry and can’t keep their hands off each other.

There’s an interlude at an American football game which has no relevance to the rest of the story. It does at least have an entertaining performance from BD Wong as the wealthy gambler Liyuan.

Characters such as Nicky’s right hand man Horst (Brennan Brown) are written in and out on a whim and act without comprehensible motivation.

After making a huge stash of cash, Nicky abruptly terminates their relationship for no explained reason and abandons her at the airport, albeit with a considerable financial advantage.

Three years later in Argentina, Nicky is hired by racing car team boss Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro) to indulge in a little corporate skulduggery.

In the close knit world of professional racing Nicky pretends to be a disgruntled engineer defecting with technical secrets to the opposition, ran by boorish Australian McEwen (Robert Taylor).

However when Jess turns up as Garriga’s girlfriend Nicky must confront his feelings for her, threatening the big con.

We’re given no reason to like the lead characters other than they’re insanely glamorous. He has a vaguely troubled personal history and she’s avoided becoming a prostitute. Far from being a romance the most important relationship is between Nicky and his father.

Nicky is always presented as powerful; wearing shades and suits while leaning out of soft-top cars. Jess suffers the camera leering over her as she parades in bikini and heels.

The coarse and laugh-free dialogue has Nicky spouting science says women are easily persuaded by soft words and trinkets. He stalks, seduces and exploits Jess before reducing her to being a nurse with a meal ticket.

Jess is possibly the only female with a speaking role.

It ends with an astonishingly predictable sting in the tail stolen from a far superior couple of con-men.

★☆☆☆☆

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