Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Focus

by Andrew Hudak

Will Smith plays a con man's game in "Focus"

For me, few things beat a good sleight of hand movie. The main characters in such movies tend to be con artists, gamblers, and thieves. While I would never want to associate with any of these people in real life, the escapist fantasy that movies have to offer make them characters to root for. It’s a thrill to see them apply their trade and put one over on their “marks.”

In “Focus,” we get one such character in the form of Nicky (Will Smith), a con man with big plans to pick the pockets—both literally and figuratively—of unsuspecting dupes who are down in New Orleans for the Super Bowl. One of the members of his crew is a protégé/love interest named Jess (Margot Robbie). There’s a devilishly delightful sequence of Jess and her cohorts doing their thing—lifting wallets, swiping watches, and the like. We see how they work as a team. The rhythm seems to be the same. There’s the distraction, the lift, and the pass. The pass is key, because it’s where the person who did the stealing quickly gives the stolen item to someone else. This puts them in the clear in case someone accuses them later, after they remember that person who clumsily bumped into them.

Once they have robbed as much as they could, it’s off to the big game. Nicky has skybox tickets and he invites Jess to go with him. In the box with them is a gambler named Liyuan (BD Wong). For anyone who has an addiction, especially a gambling one, or knows someone who has one, the scene that plays out between Nicky and Liyuan is pretty upsetting. It’s rare that I am so affected by the goings on of a movie that I smack my forehead in disbelief and curse at what’s going on right on the screen in front of me, but this scene got me. I will say to help get you through it is that, if you stick with it, you will be awesomely and joyously surprised.

Shortly after, and for reasons not fully explained, Nicky and Jess part ways. Three years later, they are reunited in Buenos Aires when it turns out that Nicky’s current partner, a rich racecar owner named Garriga (Rodrigo Santoro), is dating Jess. For full disclosure, I have to admit that if this incredible coincidence happened in a lesser movie, I would have rolled my eyes and checked out. However, because “Focus” is such a sleek and crafty ride, I forgave this indiscretion and went along with it.

The plot from here on in involves a scam that Garriga and Nicky have cooked up to fool Garriga’s competitors into buying a fake formula to improve racecars. The details are fuzzy, but they don’t matter. The real story is in the rekindling of the romance between Nicky and Jess, all the while being hounded by Garriga’s tough ol’ bodyguard (Gerald McRaney).

Not a movie to forget what it is and why you’re watching, there are some fun twists and turns in “Focus.” The touch is light, even when things get dire for our heroes, and the movie never falls short on the surprises. Buy it.

Focus (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet Combo Pack)

Also New This Week:

Jupiter Ascending

Every once in a while I come across a guilty pleasure. This is a movie that when other people tell me how bad it is, I have no retort or defense. I recognize the badness and that these people are correct. Still, I like the movie anyway. Such is my situation with “Jupiter Ascending.”

Rather than go through the absurdity of the plot, the best thing to do is watch the Honest Trailer on youtube. The trailer nails the plot of this movie, and as much as they totally rip it and make fun of it, they’re not exaggerating. True to its name, the Honest Trailer for “Jupiter Ascending” honestly and straight up gives you the plot of the movie, as crazy as it is.

I think for me it’s part of the fun. I get caught up in the space opera hamminess. Where else can a woman who cleans toilets and looks like Mila Kunis be told that she’s a queen and be saved by a guy who looks like Channing Tatum and wears what can best be described as melting Spock ears?

Is it overdone? Yes! Too much story, overstuffed CGI landscapes, and overly theatrical acting, particularly by newly anointed Best Actor Eddie Redmayne, are some of this movie’s key problems. But dog gone it if I wasn’t entertained by it and had some fun watching all the goofy space spectacle. This is a very qualified recommendation, but I stand by “Jupiter Ascending” enough to say Rent it.

More New Releases: “McFarland, USA,” feel good Disney movie starring Kevin Costner as a track coach in a small California town who transforms a team of athletes into championship contenders; “The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water 3D,” in which SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) must journey to the real world to get his Krabby Patty recipe back from dastardly pirate Burger Beard (Antonio Banderas); and “Camp X-Ray,” starring Kristen Stewart as a young soldier stationed at Gitmo.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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