Will Smith has only had two minor roles since the epically bad "After Earth" (2013). "Focus" is a great improvement, both the film and his performance, although that's not saying much. This movie, with co-star and rising starlet Margot Robbie, is mildly entertaining, but mostly preposterous.


Smith plays Nicky Spurgeon, a con man who runs a large pickpocket/scam outfit with dozens of employees, reminiscent of Leonardo DiCaprio's crowd of high-pressure investment "counselors" in "The Wolf of Wall Street". In fact, that's when Robbie first made a name for herself, playing Leo's wife, and at age 23, she is rapidly ascending to A-list status. Her looks are one thing, but she can also act and has respectable comic timing.


In "Focus", she is Jess, and has a yen to be a great pickpocket/scam artist herself. Nicky takes her under his wing so she can perfect the "trade". She quickly becomes a whiz at removing unsuspecting suckers of their wallets, wristwatches, fanny packs and purses. It helps that she has associates at-the-ready to whom she deftly passes off her haul. Her initiation takes place in New Orleans on a mobbed street near the Superdome.


Nicky and Jess are, of course, physically attracted to each other --- Smith's body is in chiseled "Ali" shape, and Robbie's body is in bikini shape, which she flaunts later in Buenos Aires, where she seems enthralled with a rich, handsome (is there any other type?) race car owner, Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro). This is the setting for Nicky's greatest con, which could net him millions of dollars. But Garriga's henchman, an older bruiser named Owens (Gerald McRaney), doesn't like Nicky, and you sense he'll throw a monkey wrench into the plans.


"Focus" contains a number of unexpected twists, and one major shock at the end. But getting to that point is tiresome. Too much of Nicky and Jess cooing and dreamily looking into each other's eyes. Although the two leads have more than a modicum of chemistry, their relationship is not very original or intriguing.


One of the movie's oddest sequences --- and one of its most absurd --- has Nicky and Jess at a football game where they run into a noted gambler named Liyuan (BD Wong of "Law & Order: SVU" fame). A couple of wagers are made, and loser Nicky decides to go-for-broke and bet his outfit's week-long take on one final outcome. This is so ridiculously explained it's a wonder how Smith was able to keep a straight face. Discredit goes to co-writers, and co-directors, Glenn Ficara and John Requa, whose past collaborations include "Bad Santa" and the Jim Carrey vehicle "I Love You, Philip Morris".


But the filmmakers saved their most outrageous moment for the end. Without giving anything away, how in the world do you shoot someone within an

inch --- literally --- of his life, and be sure you can revive him? There should have been a warning flashed on screen --- "Don't try this at home!"



Opinion: Mild Wait for DVD