Remember, oh say twenty years ago, when Will Smith wasn’t known primarily as a smart-ass action hero? Smith burst onto the scene in playing a con man in Six Degrees of Separation, way back in 1993. Then of course he met Michael Bay and diverged from the path marked “actor” and chose the prettier, shinier one that pointed to “movie star”. It’s a crowded road; he had a lot of company.
It would appear, with the release this week of Focus, that Smith is now trying to get back on track. Oh sure, there have been a couple of side trips over the years, like when he made The Pursuit of Happyness and Eight Pounds for director Gabriele Muccino (you know, the two films that sold Gerard Butler on Playing for Keeps. Yes, I know. I liked it. I have my reasons.), or Ali for Oliver Stone or even the under-rated Hancock for Peter Berg. But all of those films were made when Smith, one of the biggest movie stars on the planet, was riding high. Today we see an older and wiser Smith trying to recover from a string of box-office bombs, culminating in last year’s M. Night Shyamalan mess, After Earth, an ego project if ever there was one.
Watch the trailer below. I’m getting a strong “George Clooney in Steven Soderbergh‘s Out of Sight” vibe. If Smith is truly on a mission to reshape his career, George Clooney’s is not a bad one to emulate. (Especially since Clooney doesn’t seem to be very interested in being “Geoge Clooney” at the moment.)
In the midst of veteran con man Nicky’s latest scheme, a woman from his past – now an accomplished femme fatale – shows up and throws his plans for a loop.
We don’t often see Will Smith in any sort of romantic setting. (I would not count Hitch as romantic. It’s rare that a so-called “rom-com” generates any actual sparks, but I see plenty between Smith and costar Margot Robbie.
Not many had even heard of Robbie before Martin Scorsese gave her the female lead in The Wolf of Wall Street opposite Leonardo DiCaprio (another actor who doesn’t get to do romance very often. You probably had to stop and think about that, Titanic fans, but it’s true), but she managed to more than hold her own and at the tender age of just 21. Yeah, that’s right. Robbie is only 24 years old. Doesn’t it seem like she’s always been around? (I liken her to a young Cathy Moriarty, who was also in her early twenties and playing women older and more mature than her age.)
Throw in Rodrigo Santoro (yes, please) as the villain of the piece and the third point in romantic triangle, and the always terrific Gerald McRaney as his capo cum bodyguard, and it looks like Glen Ficarra and John Requa, the duo responsible for Crazy, Stupid, Love., have created another improbable soufflé that just might rise, this time in the vein of Elmore Leonard or John D. MacDonald.
I don’t expect that anyone’s reinvented any wheels here, but that’s okay. You buy a shiny new car, you don’t expect it to come with anything less than four tires, an engine, seats and a steering wheel, right? It’s all about how those things are crafted. Just judging from this trailer, Focus looks like a well-crafted romantic thriller with all of the right accessories. I’m in. Are you?
Also starring BD Wong, Adrian Martinez and Robert Taylor, Focus opens wide in the US (in IMAX in some places!) on February 27.