Focus

Warner Brothers Pictures

Rated R for profanity, sexuality and brief violence

Con Man Matches Wits With Former Protégé In Farfetched, Cat-And-Mouse Crime Caper

Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie) is an aspiring con artist who picked the worst guy to steal a wallet from when she settled on Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith). She had no reason to suspect that he was a third generation flimflam man descended from a grandfather who ran a crooked poker game in Harlem back in the day.

Nicky was more curious than infatuated when he accepted the seductive stranger’s invite up to her hotel room after sharing drinks at a bar in midtown Manhattan. So, he was ready when an accomplice (Griff Furst) posing as her berserk husband burst in brandishing a fake gun.

Rather than hand over his wallet, Nicky calmly laughs and schools the two in the flaws of their little shakedown, such as not waiting until he was naked to try to rob him. Jess is so impressed that she not only confesses, but begs him to take her on as a protégé, giving him a hard luck story about having been a dyslexic foster kid.

Nicky agrees to show her the ropes, and even invites her to join his team of hustlers about to descend on New Orleans where they plan to pickpocket plenty of unsuspecting tourists. They’re also set to hatch an elaborate plan to fleece a wealthy compulsive gambler (BD Wong) of over a million dollars.

Though Jess proves to be a fast learner and the plot is executed without a hitch, Nicky is reluctant to include her in his next operation after they become romantically involved. Instead, he moves on alone to Argentina, where he hopes to bilk a racing car mogul (Rodrigo Santoro) of a small fortune.

The plot thickens when Jess is already draped on the arm of the playboy billionaire by the time Nicky arrives in Buenos Aires. Is she in love with the handsome Garriga or simply staging her own swindle? Will she expose Nicky as a fraud or might she be willing to join forces with her former mentor?

Co-directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (Crazy, Stupid, Love), Focus is an overplotted, cat-and-mouse caper which ostensibly takes its clues from the cleverly-concealed classic House Of Games (1987). But where that multi-layered mystery was perfectly plausible, this frustrating homage unnecessarily ventures from the sublime to the ridiculous, thereby sabotaging any chance that its promising premise might be played out in serious fashion.

Nevertheless, co-stars Will Smith and Margot Robbie generate enough chemistry to steam up the screen and make the farfetched romantic romp just worth the watch, provided eye candy alone can do for you in lieu of credulity.

 

Good (2 stars)

Running time: 104 minutes

 

Kung Fu Elliot

The Orchard

Unrated

Spellbinding Documentary Chronicles Delusional Kickboxer’s Quest For Stardom As A Matinee Idol

Elliot “White Lightning” Scott supposedly won seven different kickboxing titles in Canada before deciding it was time to parlay his success into an acting career. That’s a little hard to believe given the aspiring thespian’s flabby physique and underwhelming fight and acting skills.

Nevertheless, the Halifax, Nova Scotia, native’s goal was to become his country’s first, homegrown, screen action hero. Unable to interest a Hollywood studio in underwriting his assault on showbiz, he turned to his gainfully-employed fiancée, Linda Lum, to bankroll his self-made kung fu films on a modest day care center salary.

Elliot not only performed in but wrote and directed the micro-budget action adventures. He also did his own stunts and added the pictures’ special effects. Besides paying for the projects, Linda served as cameraman, editor and scored the soundtracks. She even had to chauffeur the cast and crew around since her flaky beau didn’t have a car (or a job).

If all of the above sounds like a recipe for disaster, that’s only because it was. The struggling couple’s ill-fated endeavor is humorously recounted in Kung Fu Elliot, a documentary which contrasts impatient Linda’s increasing frustrations with her delusional hubby-to-be’s selfish ambition for superstardom.

Co-directed by Matthew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau, this spellbinding biopic revolves more around whether their strained relationship will last than whether their latest martial arts production, Blood Fight, has a ghost of a chance of being completed and released in theaters. For, besides exploiting Linda financially, questions eventually surface about Elliot both in terms of fidelity and the legitimacy of his kickboxing record.

A cautionary tale about how love might blind you to the actual agenda of a very slippery character.

 

Excellent (4 stars)

Running time: 89 minutes

 

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

For movies opening February 27, 2015

 

The Lazarus Effect (PG-13 for terror, intense violence and some sexual references) Horror flick revolving around medical researchers who come to regret discovering a way to revive the dead after bringing back to life the fiancée (Olivia Wilde) of a grieving colleague (Mark Duplass). Ensemble includes Donald Glover, Evan Peters, Sarah Bolger and Bruno Gunn.

 

’71 (R for graphic violence, disturbing images and pervasive profanity) Historical drama, set in Belfast, Northern Ireland, about a British soldier’s (Jack O’Connell) desperate effort to survive after he’s severely beaten during an IRA riot and separated from his unit. With Richard Dormer, Jack Lowden, Sam Reid and Martin McCann.

 

Ana Maria In Novela Land (Unrated) Escapist fantasy about a slacker having a really bad day (Edy Ganem) whose fortunes suddenly change when she magically switches places with the star of her favorite TV soap opera after a lightning strike. Featuring Mercedes Mason, Luis Guzman, Sung Kang and Tamara Taylor. (In English and Spanish with subtitles)

 

Bluebird (Unrated) Introspective character study set in a frozen town in Maine where a guilt-ridden, school bus driver (Amy Morton) can’t sleep since making a mistake that led to a tragic accident. Co-starring John Slattery, Louise Krause, Emily Meade, Margo Martindale and Adam Driver.

 

Deli Man (PG-13 for profanity) Foodie documentary taking a guided look at the history of Jewish delicatessens in the U.S. as seen through the eyes of Ziggy Gruber, third generation owner of a shop in Houston.

 

Eastern Boys (Unrated) Homoerotic drama revolving around a young refugee (Kirill Emelyanov) from Eastern Europe who passes himself off as a gay escort in Paris where he’s picked up by an unsuspecting sugar daddy (Olivier Rabourdin) looking for a good time. With Edea Darcque, Camila Chakirova and Bislan Yakhiaev. (In French, English and Russian with subtitles)

 

Everly (R for sexuality, nudity, profanity, torture and graphic violence) Salma Hayak stars in the title role of this revenge thriller as a prostitute out to bring down the empire of the brutal pimp (Hiroyuki Watanabe) who forced her into the profession. Cast includes Jennifer Blanc, Caroline Chikezie, Uros Certic and Gabriella Wright.

 

The Hunting Ground (Unrated) “No means no” exposé chronicling the exponential rise of date rape on college campuses all across America.

 

Maps To The Stars (R for profanity, sexuality, graphic nudity, disturbing violence and drug use) David Cronenberg directs this dysfunctional family drama examining a Hollywood dynasty’s desperate quest for fame and fortune, including a TV psychologist (John Cusack) whose stage mom spouse (Olivia Williams) is managing the career of their child star son (Evan Bird). With Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson.

 

The Widowmaker (Unrated) Chilling tale of greed uncovering the conspiracy of silence surrounding heart disease and the practice of cardiology.

 

Wild Canaries (Unrated) Brooklyn-based whodunit revolving around a just-engaged couple (Sophia Takal and Lawrence Michael Levine) who suspect foul play when their elderly neighbor (Marylouise Burke) mysteriously drops dead inside her rent-controlled apartment. With Alia Shawkat, Jason Ritter and Kevin Corrigan.

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