Once upon a time Will Smith was a Hollywood "untouchable". And then the former king of summer fizzled out, leaving a four-year gap in between 2008 and 2012 where he disappeared from the spotlight altogether. Even since his return to the big screen, audiences having been clamoring for a fresh start from the same megastar they used to know and love. Well now, in co-directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa's new con-man drama, Focus, we're given glimpses of the Will Smith of old.
Nicky (Smith) is a veteran con-man born into the business by his father and grandfather at a very young age. And after taking a beautiful young amateur con-artist named Jess (The Wolf of Wall Street's Margot Robbie) under his tutelage, they become romantically involved. Yet, Nicky's deceptive lifestyle as a liar by trade makes falling in love a bit of a messy situation.
Ficarra and Requa are a superb writing and filmmaking tandem that rely heavily on the "twist" in their work. As their third collaborative feature, Focus takes bits and pieces from their first two efforts, Crazy, Stupid, Love and I Love You Philip Morris, by molding together a solid love story with clever caper-movie elements. The result is an entertaining and fairly unpredictable tale that makes for a gratifying ride. Probably the weakest of all their works, Focus still manages to hold the viewer's attention with frequent humor and periodic twists to keep you on your toes.
Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4
Mark Duplass is a fantastic voice in independent film. As a versatile writer, director and actor, Duplass has left this mark on meaningful films such as Safety Not Guaranteed and Jeff, Who Lives at Home. Having caught Duplass as the show-stealer in the indie horror film, Creep, on last year's film festival circuit, I became slightly intrigued by his newest and more mainstream work, The Lazarus Effect.
Frank (Duplass) and Zoe (Olivia Wilde) are a pair of engaged scientists who head a grant-funded research team whose work has evolved into a Lazarus serum that they believe could bring people back from the dead. What begins as a trial on dogs and other animals quickly spirals out of control when a freak accident in the lab unexpectedly takes Zoe's life. However, refusing to accept the loss of his loved one, Frank injects her with the serum and brings her back to life, only to discover that Zoe isn't the same person she once was.
The Lazarus Effect is a strange blend of Frankenstein meets Carrie crossed with a tiny element of Nightmare on Elm Street, but all in a less that satisfying way. Relying on cheap PG-13 scares and demonstrating some serious writing deficiencies, The Lazarus Effect boasts an intriguing premise and very little else. As expected, Duplass delivers another fully committed performance that's unfortunately squandered by weaknesses scattered all throughout the rest of the project.
Stars: 1 and a half stars out of 4