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Focus: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Focus (2015) movie poster Focus

Theatrical Release: February 27, 2015 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: R

Writers/Directors: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa

Cast: Will Smith (Nicky "Mellow" Spurgeon), Margot Robbie (Jess Barrett), Adrian Martinez (Farhad), Gerald McRaney (Owens), Rodrigo Santoro (Rafael Garriga), B.D. Wong (Liyuan Tse), Brennan Brown (Horst), Robert Taylor (McEwen), Dotan Bonen (Gordon), Griff Furst (Gareth), Stephanie Honorι (Janice), David Stanford (Drunken Stranger), Dominic Fumusa (Jared)

Buy Focus from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD • DVD • Instant Video

Will Smith seems to have relinquished the title of World's Biggest Movie Star voluntarily and without a successor.
From 1996, the year that "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" signed off, to 2012, Smith starred almost exclusively in global blockbusters. There was a minor misfire in Wild Wild West and a few prestige pictures didn't have such high commercial expectations (including The Pursuit of Happyness, which still succeeded on his appeal), but Smith was long pretty consistent about being the face of one of the biggest movies of Hollywood's biggest seasons. Smith's success in the Nineties and Noughties, to which only Tom Cruise and Adam Sandler could compare, was partly the product of his choices. Smith was drawn to high-concept, world-saving heroics that likely would have been treated as an event with someone else in his role. That was apparent when he headlined the #1 movie of the summer two years in a row, each a big-budget, effects-driven alien tale.

After Men in Black 3 performed somewhat below expectations domestically (but cleaned up overseas), Smith evidently tossed his industry crown. In 2013, After Earth saw him playing second fiddle for the first time in forever. The subservience was part of Smith's plan to groom his son Jaden to be the next big movie star. Though 2010's Dad-produced Karate Kid remake did well, Jaden has not won the world's hearts the way his father did in the '90s. And despite an untimely Karate sequel allegedly being in the pipeline, neither father nor son seems particularly interested in trying to make Jaden (or Willow, for that matter) catch on.

So, what now is to become of Will Smith, if the blockbuster solo vehicles have stopped for the time being? Anything he wants. Cameo in Anchorman 2? Check. Cameo in Winter's Tale? Much less understandable, but check. Then, 2015 brought us Focus, the first original Smith film since 2008 and the first to open outside the lucrative summer and holiday movie seasons since 2005's Hitch.

With its R rating, late February release, and pronounced lack of a high concept, Focus was clearly not intended to be the next entry in the long line of Will Smith blockbusters. What it was intended to be remained something of a mystery, even after grossing a mediocre $54 million domestic on a $50 M production budget.

In "Focus", con artists Nicky (Will Smith) and Jess (Margot Robbie) get caught up in an increasingly high stakes gambling match with an Asian businessman.

From the duo who wrote Bad Santa and Cats & Dogs and directed I Love You Phillip Morris and Crazy, Stupid, Love., this comic con artist drama casts Smith as Nicky "Mellow" Spurgeon, to whom we are introduced in New York alongside Jess (Margot Robbie). She asks him to pose as her date to deflect unwanted interest. The strangers' encounter progresses back to Jess' hotel room, where Nicky has already figured out he's being set up by the attractive but relatively amateur young pickpocket.

Jess wants in on Nicky's bigger cons and after she tracks him down to New Orleans, he lets her join his crew upon demonstrating her pickpocketing skills on Bourbon Street. Nicky is the ringleader of a 20-person operation that travels to different hotspots. They swipe wallets, bags, and other valuables, while also making use of stolen credit card information. The group is in NOLA for this movie's fictional approximation of the Super Bowl ("XVII" pits the Rhinos against the Thrashers). Following a productive few days of unnoticed thievery, Nicky and Jess settle in for the big game. There, they bet one another on different things they observe around the full stadium. The $10 wagers escalate when a spontaneous Asian businessman (B.D. Wong) gets involved and starts betting Nicky on trivial, unpredictable aspects of the game. With enough double or nothings, the stakes escalate to over $2 million.

Following this somewhat arresting sequence and the bittersweet parting of the mutually attracted Nicky and Jess, we jump ahead three years to Buenos Aires, where Nicky is engaged in some auto racing trickery with competing teams. He is shocked to learn that Jess is dating Rafael Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro), one of the key players of this latest multi-million dollar scam.

Reunited in Argentina, Nicky (Will Smith) and Jess (Margot Robbie) pretend they don't know each other.

I have yet to be impressed by either the writing or directing talents of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa. The two, who got their start on the Nickelodeon cartoons "The Wild Thornberrys" and "The Angry Beavers", have won over enough influential people to keep rising ranks and getting to work with major talent. But they have yet to find a voice or story that showcases their gifts.

Focus could use more style and substance. It is lacking something that it's easy to notice but hard to put your finger on. The movie doesn't easily recall another, which is a good thing in one way,

but does complicate the search for an audience this might work best for. It kind of feels like the type of movie teenagers would dig, but language earns the film an R rating that doesn't make it a great fit for them. An R rating implies adults are the target audience, but this material definitely falls short of that mark on the basis of its modest intelligence and sophistication. The most troubling feature for adults and teens alike might just be the film's lack of fun. Focus is meant to make conning look cool and exciting. But that doesn't ever come across. Nicky and Jess' work doesn't win our sympathy and it doesn't particularly excite. The disbelief-stretching yet enjoyable Super Bowl episode feels like a climax. Unfortunately, the movie is barely halfway done by then and if the less scintillating Buenos Aires narrative doesn't lose you, then its unsatisfying twisty resolution just might.

The two lead actors give the project their all, which would be enough on a better project. Smith actually builds a character who isn't just an identifiable wisecracking hero. Robbie hides not only her Australian accent but also the New York one she put to use in Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street. I wish I could tell you the actors have great chemistry that makes you care about their characters' relationship, but I can't. This might not be a problem if the movie didn't ask us to invest in this couple both professionally and romantically as it does.

Though a far cry from the high level of entertainment Smith's signature vehicles usually supply, Focus is not without some merit. The film distinctly belongs to a class of movie that is middling artistically but thoroughly watchable. It's the kind of movie critics wouldn't love (they didn't), but one which might well do more for the masses than more heralded cinema.

Focus hit stores today in Warner's standard offerings of a DVD and a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack.

Focus: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: Dolby TrueHD 7.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English DVS, French, Spanish, Portuguese)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Descriptive Service, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; BD-only: Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: June 2, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($28.98 SRP) and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

There are only so many ways to keep indicating in 2015 that new movies exhibit strong picture and sound on Blu-ray. Still, Focus illustrates just how good a new studio film can look and sound on the format. The 1.78:1 picture is vivid, detailed, and flawless. The Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack is a touch above the usual 5.1 mix, using the full soundfield regularly and tastefully to distribute atmosphere that complements the crisp dialogue that drives the film. There is simply no fault to be found in this first-rate presentation.

Rehearsal clips from "Masters of Misdirection" show Margot Robbie was indeed trained in the art of pickpocketing. Margot Robbie reveals her natural Australian accent in "Margot Robbie: Stealing Hearts."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Focus is joined by five HD video bonus features on Blu-ray.

In "Masters of Misdirection: The Players in a Con" (10:25), celebrity magician/con artist Apollo Robbins, a prominently credited advisor on the film, discusses elements, techniques, and terminology of a successful diversion pickpocket. His comments and tutorial videos are complemented by actress Margot Robbie's theft rehearsals and remarks.

From there, we move to character profiles. "Will Smith: Gentleman Thief" (5:52) and "Margot Robbie: Stealing Hearts" (4:08) consider the lead personalities and the actors' interpretations of them.

Long relegated to small character roles, Adrian Martinez gets third billing and his own clip of outtakes. This alternate opening introduces Nicky (Will Smith) in two-layered jewelry store scam.

Four deleted scenes run 8 minutes and 2 seconds. They include an extension of that unsatisfying twist ending,
an otherwise unseen club trick, alternate takes of Adrian Martinez, and an extended version of Australian racer McEwen (Robert Taylor) being lewd.

The extras conclude with an alternate opening (2:44), which introduces Nicky by exposing a jewelry store con, which, naturally, is a scam on top of a scam. It wouldn't have been a bad way to start the film.

Of these bonus materials, the DVD only includes the four deleted/extended/alternate scenes, even though it is far from reaching dual-layered capacity.

The Blu-ray opens with trailers for San Andreas and Entourage. The DVD starts with an anti-tobacco ad and those and then proceeds to promote Run All Night, Get Hard,

Par for the studio, each disc attaches score to a static shot. The two plainly-labeled discs share a slipcovered eco-friendly keepcase with the Digital HD insert.

Some final act twists jeopardize the well-being of Nicky (Will Smith) and Jess (Margot Robbie).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Not so funny, decidedly not smart, and only occasionally compelling, Focus is an average and forgettable piece of entertainment. It's nice to see Will Smith stretching himself, but it's a slight stretch with none of the fun of his big summer marquee attractions. There's still enough here to warrant a rental for those wanting two hours of polished escapism.

Buy Focus from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Glenn Ficarra & John Requa: I Love You Phillip Morris • Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Will Smith: After Earth • Winter's Tale • Hancock • Men in Black • Men in Black II • Men in Black 3 • Enemy of the State
Margot Robbie: The Wolf of Wall Street | Adrian Martinez: American Hustle • Casa De Mi Padre
To Catch a Thief • Any Given Sunday • The Gambler • Silver Linings Playbook • Now You See Me • 21 • Thief
New: Sons of Liberty • The Cobbler • American Sniper • Leviathan

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Reviewed June 2, 2015.



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