Naomi Watts had it in 2001’s Mulholland Drive, Nicole Kidman did it in 1989’s Dead Calm and, most recently, Margot Robbie did it in a big way with 2013’s The Wolf of Wall Street.
As the sexually charged, Brooklyn-born trophy wife of Leonardo DiCaprio’s manic stockbroker, she stole the show.
Far more important though, and less discussed, is what breakout stars decide to do next – how they choose to differentiate themselves from the one-hit wonders of the acting world.
With Focus, Robbie may have blown her one shot at credibility.
Robbie plays Jess, an over-eager wannabe con artist who teams up with charming veteran trickster Nicky, played by Will Smith in his first lead role since 2013’s mega-bomb After Earth.
The pair’s unlikely on-screen chemistry (Smith is 22 years Robbie’s senior) may be the only redeeming feature in this convoluted, contrived farce that starts with promise but ends in a tangled mess of labyrinthine subplots.
This is particularly disappointing given the list of Hollywood con movies is a disproportionately excellent one.
From The Sting and The Grifters to Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and Ocean’s Eleven, we’ve come to expect great things from grifter flicks, namely rollicking plot twists and “aha!” moments galore.
But Focus is neither deft nor entertaining in its execution of a number of far-fetched “stings” in which “aha!” sounds more like “seriously?”.
Directed and written by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa – the men who brought you Bad Santa and I Love You Phillip Morris – it’s an earnest attempt at a fast-paced thriller that quickly becomes hampered by poor dialogue, absurd chase scenes and a story that’s just trying too darn hard.
There are some highlights, mainly in the form of the sleek pickpocketing manoeuvres Nicky and his team execute on the streets of a Super Bowl-crazed New Orleans, or the charming meet-cute between the two leads, which looks something like the world’s most attractive magic show.
But the film’s greatest downfall is that none of its characters are particularly likeable. Smith’s Nicky feels shallow – little more than a self-absorbed wisecrack merchant – while Robbie’s Jess is grating in her wide-eyed enthusiasm. Don’t even get us started on her vacillating American accent.
The nail in the coffin comes in the form of a range of eccentric periphery personalities – a gambling Chinese billionaire, a fat techie sidekick, a hothead Latin racing mogul and a particularly obnoxious Aussie – who all appear as awkward stereotypes attempting to navigate a whirling pool of nonsense.
To maintain a firm foothold in it all, you’ll need exactly what the film’s title suggests.
Perhaps it’s a testament to the pulling power of the two leads that Focus is topping box offices worldwide. Or perhaps it’s a sign audiences have simply stopped caring.
Whatever the case, Robbie is fortunate that her inescapable gorgeousness, business savvy and off-screen charm will likely guarantee her a long and lucrative career, akin to that of a young Cameron Diaz.
Slated for a number of upcoming rom coms and action flicks – such as the hotly-anticipated Suicide Squad – Robbie is certain to win legions of admirers.
After Focus, she just won’t be winning any Oscars.