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Focus & The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

March 5, 2015

Focus (** ½)

Will Smith’s latest effort Focus is a refreshing return to form for the actor after the disastrous left turn taken in his last starring role, After Earth. That previous film was directed by the once great M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense), which goes to show that, perhaps, Smith should choose more wisely when picking directors. Thankfully, he’s chosen to work with John Requa and Glenn Ficarra, whose last two films-Crazy, Stupid, Love and I Love You Phillip Morris-exhibited a nice comedic flair with just a touch of drama thrown in for good measure. Requa and Ficarra prove to be good choices for Focus, even if the film is far from what one might consider perfection.

In the film Smith is Nicky, a con artist who’s been at the game probably longer than he should have. He makes the decision to let a novice named Jess join in on the fun while he shows her the ropes. Jess is played by the always easy on the eyes Margot Robbie. Most astute filmgoers will remember her for the splash she made as Leonardo Di Caprio’s wife in the 2013 Oscar nominee Wolf of Wall Street.

Nicky chances to run into Jess three years after the two have parted ways and Nicky is attempting to make his latest score with a race care driver who is looking to get ahead of his competition.

Smith & Robbie in Focus

Nicky soon comes to realize how dangerous it can be to show someone the tricks that one has acquired in their chosen trade over the course of a seasoned career when he spots Jess in Buenos Aires after being asked to aid in the driver’s scam. To iterate more would ruin the few surprises the film has going for it. Allow me to stop there in my revelation of the plot twists and turns, if you will.

The film seems to have a lot in common with the surprise 2013 hit Now You See Now You Don’t and one can’t help but wonder if the filmmakers were inspired on some level by that earlier film. There’s lots of sleight of hand shenanigans that were found in that and if you enjoy that sort of thing you’ll probably find more to embrace in Focus than the average filmgoer.

The film’s technical aspects are good enough, though nothing exceptional that will linger in the memory long after the film has come and gone. The cinematography by Xavier Grobet and the score by Nick Urata are two of the better things Focus has going for it. It’s also worth mentioning that Gerald McRaney, mostly known for his TV work in the 80s, turns up in a nice supporting role, of which too many details can’t be spilled without spoiling an interesting twist in the film’s plot. 

In the end, Focus turns out to be a decent Will Smith effort but considering the kind of work the actor has turned in as of late, it’s a positive step in the right direction, which is probably the best we could hope for these days.

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

By Jocelyn Noveck

AP National Writer

If you’re going to do a movie sequel that doesn’t quite measure up to the original and seems rather hurriedly cobbled together, well, OK. Many filmmakers have done the same.

But actually putting the words “Second Best’’ in the title? Now, that’s just asking for the unflattering comparisons.

This isn’t to say that ``The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’’ —so named after an actual hotel in the movie—won’t appeal to the same fans who flocked to the first film. And it’s hard to quibble over the value of spending two hours with the likes of Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Indeed, Smith’s exasperated rant over the state of lukewarm tea in the United States is alone worth the price of a ticket.

The sequel brings us back to Jaipur, India, a few years after the British retirees first made their home in the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, where they discovered that although the place wasn’t as luxurious as advertised, it was full of life—and life lessons.

Dame Maggie Smith & Dev Patel in ‘Second Best Marigold’

The film, directed by John Madden (who wrote the script with Ol Parker) opens with Muriel and Sonny on a road trip to a California retirement company they’re hoping will fund Sonny’s franchise dreams. Sonny’s plan centers on buying a second hotel, to be christened, of course, ``The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.’’

Back in India, Sonny is too obsessed with his plan to pay any attention to his impending wedding, an obvious source of frustration to his fiancee, lovely Sunaina (Tina Desai). And he’s so driven that when a guest named Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) shows up—and yes, that does sound like a porn star, but actually he’s a novelist—Sonny’s convinced he’s the inspector that the retirement company’s CEO said he’d send, incognito, to check out the place. Much stress ensues.

In any case, it all boils down to that final wedding scene. Without spoiling much, we can tell you the colors are gorgeous (check out Sunaina’s red sari), and as for the obligatory dance sequence—it may be obligatory, but it’s huge fun. Keep your eyes on Patel: he’s having a ball, and it’s infectious. If the rest of the film were this appealing, it wouldn’t feel ``second best’’ at all.
Rated PG. Two stars out of four.

Questions or comments? Write Adam at filmfan1970@hotmail.com.

 

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