The trouble with movies about Grifters is that the viewer is often deceived. Which is OK, if you realize that going in, and just decide to enjoy the ride. But the plot becomes so convoluted that the viewer has to not try to figure it out. Just go with the flow, and concentrate on something else, instead: like how pretty the actors are. Or how much of a spark they manage to create between themselves on the screen.
Of course, if you’re a Bible-beholden Presbyterian like some of the rest of us, there’s something a little snarky about an ostensibly happily-married man (Will Smith) playing love scenes with a beautiful woman (Margot Robbie) young enough to be his daughter. But we’ll just pretend it’s all in the name of credible acting. And we do understand that there has to be an overt sexual interest here in order for all the urgent undertones of their relationship to resonate on the screen. While it’s not quite as egregious as, say, a Senior Pastor having sex with an Associate Pastor, still, there’s a weird kind of intern vibe going on here that we viewers are supposed sort out, along with the obvious partners-in-crime scenario.
Nicky (Will Smith) is a lifelong, championship-caliber grifter. As in long ago graduating from lifting wallets and watches, and now establishing elaborate “long cons” with the help of an ably corrupt team of light-fingered henchmen. He happens to meet Jess (Margot Robbie) because she’s unsuccessfully tried to pull the seduction con on him: you know, meet him in a hotel bar, get him up to his room, get his pants off, and in bursts the angry husband with a gun, counting on the frightened “mark” to flee while they rob him of his possessions, along with his pride and vanity. Nicky knows right away what this is, and also knows how to call their bluff: Go ahead and shoot me. I’m not going anywhere. Of course, they’re just thieves, not murderers, and Nicky advises them that their routine is laughably awful, but Jess doesn’t give up that easily. She asks him for instruction, which he’s only reluctantly willing to give, provided, of course, that she use those bombshell good looks to help him with a con or two of his own.
She’s either dazzled by his expertise or his finely-honed abs, or maybe both, but she willingly accepts his tutelage, and somehow the sex is part of the bargain, and not exactly unwillingly on her part. In fact, she actually thinks she might be falling in love, for real, until he devastates her by demonstrating that his supposed ardor was itself part of a con, and no hard feelings, but see you, and have a nice life.
Three years later, they happen to meet again, and this time he’s the one pursuing her, saying he’s sorry for what happened, and he really does have feelings for her, and can they try this again? Though she’s in another relationship at the time, one with a rich playboy for whom she is really just another expensive plaything, she just might be willing to actually invest herself emotionally again, even after being burned once, but wait…..is this, too, another con? And who’s the hammer and who’s the nail?
There’s no question that both Mr. Smith and Ms. Robbie are attractive to look at, and both are solid actors in the midst of a slick production and a byzantine story line. But though it’s fun to watch, in a superficial kind of way, still, at the end, you feel a little gypped, out of a couple of hours, and the price of admission. But just because you’ve been taken for a ride for a while doesn’t mean you didn’t enjoy it just a little.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen is the Parish Associate, Woodhaven