Two years after the colossal failure of sci-fi thriller “After Earth,” Will Smith returned to theatres this past weekend with the flashy con artist/love story “Focus,” and though it was number one at the box office, with an opening of $US19.1 million, it one of Smith’s lowest-opening weekends ever.
Smith is certainly at a crossroads professionally.
Even before “After Earth,” films like “Hancock” and “I, Robot” (before overseas sales raised their grosses) showed that if he didn’t change things, the star who once owned July 4 weekend with “Independence Day”and “Men In Black” was setting himself up for a fall.
Though “Focus” proves Smith still has the charisma and eye for good scripts to be a viable draw, he isn’t out of the woods just yet.
Here are five ways he can get out of this slump.
1. Do Less Sci-Fi
Yes, Smith became a megastar fighting evil aliens in “Independence Day” and the “Men in Black” franchise and by performing incredible feats in front of green screens, but now at 46 it’s time for him to pull back. There’s nothing worse than watching an old action hero, and though Smith keeps himself in great shape, what “Focus” proves is that he can still grab our attention without leaving the stratosphere.
2. Find a Big Name Director to Team with
Smith has worked with some big name directors (Michael Bay, Barry Sonnenfeld, Tony Scott, Michael Mann), but what would completely floor everyone is if Smith teamed with a director as iconic as him like Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, or Oliver Stone. For Smith, the best thing might be to pause from developing projects and give himself over to an auteur who can get him out of his comfort zone and just act.
3. Comedy is your Friend
If you scroll through Smith’s all-time top grossing films, you’ll find his largest grossing comedy is 2005’s “Hitch.” Outside of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” it’s Smith’s best comedic work and, sadly, it’s the last time he’s done it. One of the reasons he’s a huge movie star is that regardless of the seriousness of the story, he can always throw in a joke and it will work. “Focus” gives us a bit of that Big Willie charm, but what he might need right now is to do a strong comedy.
4. Don’t be Scared of the Supporting Role
Yes, it sounds insane, but Smith can benefit from being in a great movie and not have top billing. In fact, he’s doing just that with his decision to take on the role of Deadshot in the adaptation of next summer’s “Suicide Squad.” Playing in an ensemble will not only get him into the comic book game without having the pressure of launching a stand-alone character on his own, but as a supporting (and doing it better than being a spiritual golf caddie like in “The Legend of Bagger Vance”) it would build the excitement when he does show up on screen.
5. More Dramas
This has always been Smith’s Achilles heel. Though he hit the mark with “Ali,” movies like “Seven Pounds” and “The Pursuit of Happyness” got him gun shy in taking dramatic chances. But he’s only gotten better since then. There are scenes in “Focus” that showcase his growth and prove that he has a strength playing serious and conflicted. The best example is a Super Bowl sequence in which *spoiler* Smith’s character plays all of us as we watch his grift on a wealthy business tycoon by playing up a supposed gambling addiction. *spoiler* This may be the time for Smith to go after that Oscar again.
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