‘Focus’ loses sight, uneven tone prematurely kills film

After critically successful releases of “Seven Pounds” and “I Am Legend,” Will Smith took a significant amount of time off only to return to screens with “After Earth” and “Men in Black 3.” Unfortunately neither film found the critical or commercial success that the actor had been known for. So enters “Focus”; marketed as the gritty character driven return to form for the blockbuster actor, “Focus” fails to deliver more than your average romantic comedy.

While “Focus” started off as a fun and entertaining con movie, it’s hard to recommend because it loses steam and narrative focus down the stretch of its two-hour run time. Initially I found myself thoroughly enjoying the film; it begins with a charismatic and charming Smith training a young and inexperienced con-woman, played by Margot Robbie (“The Wolf Of Wall Street”). This early narrative followed our characters through various cons and heists with light pacing and a story that does not take itself too seriously.

The film develops an entertaining tone that keeps the viewer engaged and laughing. To complement the light and upbeat script, Smith and Robbie both give great performances. Charming, charismatic and funny.It’s easy to fall for the main characters even though they are robbing innocent people. Robbie comes off as inexperienced and youthful, successfully winning over the viewer with her sly smile while Smith boasts a troubled and complicated past evoking a deeper sense of empathy. Unfortunately, despite how successful the two lead actors were at establishing interesting characters, this is done away with when the narrative turns into nothing more than a formulaic romantic comedy.

As we transition into the second half, “Focus” loses its grasp on this entertaining and engaging atmosphere instead focusing, almost entirely, on the relationship between Smith and Robbie. This, in theory, could have been done successfully; in execution though “Focus” handles the relationship in a sloppy manner taking a large time jump, which kills all character development. “Focus” isn’t a bad movie because it decided to have the romantic relationship take center stage; it’s a bad film because of how jarring the change in tone is.

The lead actors, along with a strong supporting secondary cast in Adrian Martinez (The Amazing Spider-Man) and Brennan Brown (“The Black List”), successful draw the audience in providing frequent laughs with a good amount of tension and drama. Transitioning into the second half of the film, Focus takes a much darker tone replacing the successful secondary characters with a new cast featuring Gerald McRaney (“The Best Of Me”) and Rodrigo Santoro (“Rio 2”). This new entourage does just fine in their roles to support the film and its leads, but the new narrative direction of the movie never comes together.

Too timid to embrace its new dramatic tone and too desperate to hold onto the fun and light pacing of its beginning, “Focus” flounders about in its second half. While the new cast and storyline are suitable for a dramatic con movie, the film attempts to grasp onto the energy and pacing established early on, creating a jarring experience for the viewer. Ultimately, the second half of the film can’t decide what it wants to be, and Smith and Robbie couldn’t keep it afloat on charm alone.

In the end, “Focus” is not the revitalization of Smith’s once great career. He and Robbie shine in their roles, but they are brought down by uneven tone and a poor narrative. Early on, the film set itself up for greatness engaging and immersing the audience in its light and fast-paced con narrative. As the film developed though, the director focused more on a dramatic tone while attempting to hold onto the comedy that came before. Focus is fun at first, but ultimately transforms into a film that is worth neither the time, nor money to see in theaters.

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