FOCUS — ** — William H. Macy, Laura Dern, David Paymer, Meat Loaf Aday, Kay Hawtrey, Michael Copeman; rated PG-13 (ethnic slurs, violence, profanity, brief sex, brief rape); exclusively at the Tower Theatre.
Subtlety is not a strong suit of "Focus."
In fact, this wearying dramatic thriller is one of most heavy-handed films to come out during a particularly unsubtle cinematic year — a year filled with movies that pretty much bludgeoned audiences with clumsy exposition and poorly expressed big ideas.
Not that anyone can really expect "Focus" issues as divisive as anti-Semitism to receive a velvet glove, mind you. But by the time the film is over you may feel that you need an ice pack to sooth your bruised noggin.
Though "Focus" is an adaptation of an Arthur Miller novel, it actually feels as if it were adapted from one of his stage plays. It's very stagy, with an extremely limited range of settings and motion — none of which helps this already hobbled movie.
The film's title could be a command to meek personnel director Lawrence Newman (William H. Macy). Having weak vision, Lawrence has been ordered by his bosses to get some eyewear — though to their horror, he buys a pair of glasses that make him look "Jewish."
That turns out to be a big mistake, as his bigoted higher-ups demote him and eventually force him to quit. At the same time, Lawrence's neighbors begin eyeing him a bit strangely, especially Fred (Meat Loaf Aday), the anti-Semite who lives next door.
Though he tries to smooth things over, Lawrence's neighbors begin to suspect the worst when he continues to buy from Jewish news vendor Finkelstein (David Paymer) over their protests. But the final straw may come when Lawrence marries Gertrude (Laura Dern), a co-worker whom many believe to be a Jew.
Making his feature filmmaking debut, Neal Slavin (a television commercial veteran) is unable to sustain any real form of tension. Also, he lets several scenes linger on for too long. As a result, the film feels much longer than it actually is. Not that the speech-heavy script by Kendrew Lascelles is any help.
However, despite all the filmmaking blunders, several of the performances are strong, particularly Macy as a man too afraid to express his real feelings, yet torn by his sense of morality.
"Focus" is rated PG-13 for frequent use of ethnic slurs and some racial epithets, violence (beatings), scattered use of profanity (mostly religiously based), brief simulated sex and a brief depiction of rape (fairly discreetly). Running time: 106 minutes.