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Con artist caper puts Will Smith back in 'Focus'

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Con artist movies are all about keeping up with the con — not only the layers of cons the characters are running on each other, but the long, elaborate con that is inevitably being played on the audience.

"Focus" handles its cons, both the long and short, with a grifter's sense of sorcery. It's a slick popcorn pic with a few good tricks up its sleeve, and like any good con runner, it manages to stay two steps ahead of its mark.

It also represents a return to Earth for Will Smith, who hasn't been this charming, this smooth, this Will Smith since "Hitch." After spending the last decade in throwaway action shlock ( "I Am Legend," "Men in Black 3," "After Earth") and hammy dramas ("Seven Pounds," "The Pursuit of Happyness"), Smith's natural charisma has been dulled by special effects bonanzas and/or a desire to play against type. In "Focus," he feels like himself again, and he reminds you why he became one of Hollywood's biggest stars in the first place.

Smith plays master con artist Nicky Spurgeon, who runs a con web so elaborate it practically has its own office space. He takes a young protege ("The Wolf of Wall Street" stunner Margot Robbie) under his wing and shows her the art of the con, and ends up falling for her (as per Hollywood norm, she's roughly half his age). But is he conning her? Is she conning him? Are they conning each other? Do they fly on Con Air?

Writer-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa ("I Love You Phillip Morris," "Crazy, Stupid, Love.") pack a few nifty set pieces, including one bizarre break that seems beamed in from another movie altogether. Their screenplay, though oddly fixated on references to male genitalia, is packed with jargon and references to a world that, even if it's completely false (is the "Toledo Panic Button" really a thing?), feels real. That's the key to any good con: Make it believable, and everything else falls into place.



Rated R for language, some sexual content and brief violence

Running time: 104 minutes