dir-scr Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
prd Denise Di Novi
with Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Rodrigo Santoro, Gerald McRaney, Adrian Martinez, BD Wong, Brennan Brown, Robert Taylor, Stephanie Honore, Dominic Fumusa, Griff Furst, Cacilie Hughes
release US/UK 27.Feb.15
15/US Warner 1h44
Who's feeling lucky? Smith and Robbie

santoro mcraney martinez
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Focus Slicky smooth and uterly toothless, this con-artist romp is watchable thanks to the quirky wit injected by writer-directors Ficarra and Requa. But movies about grifters really need to be packed with surprises, and nothing that happens here is remotely unexpected. Even worse is the vain contrivance that the lead character is a nice guy.

Jess (Robbie) is desperate to learn con-artistry from third generation fast-talker Nicky (Smith), so she follows him to New Orleans in the week before a football championship. Since she has unusual talent, he lets her join his crew as they fleece gullible fans swarming the streets, then involves her in a bigger, riskier gamble. But Nicky promptly disappears, and Jess only reconnects with him three years later in Buenos Aires, where he's working a Formula One scam with a team owner (Santoro) and his right-hand goon (McRaney). And this time the stakes are much higher.

There's an odd inconsistency to the characters, as Ficarra and Requa shift the movie from a heist adventure into a darker drama and ultimately a romantic comedy. Smith has an enjoyably loose quality as Nicky, plus eyebrow-arching muscles, but his shift from heartless thief to lovelorn puppy feels so fake that it surely must be a con. And the same goes for Robbie's gung-ho, naturally gifted Jess, who seems to be up to something nefarious, so we just wait for the other shoe to drop.

That the script isn't very clever is both a frustration and a relief. There are plenty of twists in the story, but never one that feels like movie manipulation. Ficarra and Requa are far more interested in the messy dynamic between the characters to worry about making the various heist set-pieces too surprising. Still, each one is fun, from the bustle of New Orleans Mardi Gras to a skybox gambling frenzy to the ultimate surprisingly violent showdown.

So while the film is enjoyable, it never quite makes good on its promise to properly wow us. Scenes are packed with comical touches and awkward interaction, and there are a few cool revelations along the way. But without characters who feel truthful, there's little to grab hold of. And ultimately no point to the story. It leaves us thinking that there must be a more blackly hilarious early version of this script in which Nicky isn't remotely sympathetic. Now that's a film we'd like to see. And one Smith would never star in.

cert 15 themes, language, violence, sexuality 10.Feb.15

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