The best way to approach this film is to immediately dispense with its problems. The first half is stronger and more entertaining than what comes after it. Due to the surprising, and surprising amount of, twists it takes, a second viewing won’t hold up, because you’ll know all of those twists. When it’s over, you’ll realize how much of it doesn’t make any sense, that some of the twists might have looked good on the page, yet really have no business being in the story.

But, hold on. I kind of liked this movie. It features all sorts of different types of eye candy, from its easy-to-look-at stars Will Smith and Margot Robbie (the Aussie actress who stole most scenes away from Leo DiCaprio in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and will soon star opposite Alexander Skarsgard as Jane in “Tarzan”), to its dazzling settings (New Orleans and Buenos Aires) and flashy, on-the-move cinematography.

It’s a movie about a team of con artists and the woman who wants to join their ranks as an “intern.” An intriguing start has ace con man Nicky (Will Smith) purposely getting himself set up and almost ripped off by the very green Jess (Margot Robbie). He puts himself in that position as a lark, to amuse himself, or maybe because he thinks he sees someone with promise, someone he can bring into his operation.

He does eventually bring her in, acting as her teacher and mentor, but being careful to explain that this is a volume business, involving misdirection, sleight of hand, the picking of wallets, the taking of jewelry, etc. “You get their focus,” he says of his unwary marks, “and you can take whatever you want.” It’s not, he makes it clear, about “the big con,” the one job that will enable you to retire. That, he says, is a fantasy.

Jess becomes an apt pupil, learning and displaying her prowess quickly and effectively. But teacher and student also become lovers. Uh-oh, that’s never a good thing. Though it sure can be for anyone watching this. Both actors play the hot scenes quite well, and there’s a real sexual spark between them up there on the screen.

But there’s something you should know before sitting down to watch this. You, the viewer, are going to be fooled as much as the people these sharks are going after. That’s part of the fun of the story. Sure, we’re told in advance what’s going to happen to certain suckers, then we see it happen. But then it’s all switched around, and we see something happen, and are then told how it was done ... in detail.

You’ve got to wonder, though, what we’re not being told, or what’s being revealed that isn’t quite true. For instance, does Nicky really have a gambling problem, as is suggested? That is certainly a subject of interest. You will eventually learn some new terms: the Toledo Panic Button or the Little Blind Mouse, and will understand what they mean in the world of cons. That, too, is entertaining.

But when the story jumps ahead three years, even though that part is initially intriguing, the script and the film start to lose steam, mainly because it all becomes over-plotted. You still won’t have any idea about where it’s going, but the excitement level noticeably dips.

Nonetheless, it all remains fun, partially because of a terrific soundtrack, which includes “White Bird” by It’s a Beautiful Day, and the oh-so-gritty version of “Baby, Please Don’t Go” by Van Morrison’s early group Them.

For a slightly better time, it would behoove you to check out the two earlier writing-directing efforts by “Focus’ ” team of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa: the popular and clever “Crazy, Stupid, Love,” and the sorely overlooked “I Love You Phillip Morris.”

Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.

FOCUS
Written and directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa
With Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Gerald McRaney, Adrian Martinez, Rodrigo Santoro
Rated R