When Hip Hop Trips Up
In the Mix reminds me of a puppy that chews up your shoes but is too cute to punish. Utterly bland in almost every way, this movie is still incapable of being hated. However, the mess it drops on screen makes you consider rubbing the filmmakers' faces in it.
R&B star and sometimes-actor Usher headlines as Darrell Williams, a rising star in New York's DJ scene. One day, while spinning records at a homecoming party for childhood friend and beautiful law student Dolly Pucelli (Emmanuelle Chriqui), Darrell ends up taking a bullet meant for her and for her mobster father (Chazz Palminteri) in an attempted assassination. All of a sudden, Darrell finds himself inducted into the Pucelli "family," hired as a bodyguard to follow and protect Dolly wherever she goes. Although the spirited and independent dolly is irritated at first by Darrell's presence (not to mention the constant stream of women who inexplicably fawn over him), the two soon start to recognize their growing attraction for one another. But keeping their blooming romance on the down-low is going to be tough, especially when Dolly's father becomes embroiled in a shady war with another crime family.
Like Prince's Under the Cherry Moon, In the Mix proves to be little more than a giant vanity project for a singer who has yet to conquer the domain of acting. It was meant for one purpose, and that purpose is to give Usher the chance to show off about how sexy he is. The film is crammed with awkwardly-placed moments in which women melt at his very glance. Although the story hides behind the idea that Darrell would give all these ladies up for Dolly's love, astute viewers will quickly realize that In the Mix amounts to nothing more than Usher's 95-minute look in the mirror. The lack of spark and energy in the film's "plot" is evident in just about every way you can examine.
In the Mix wants to do too much, ending up more as three boring little movies strung together instead of a singular dull one. The story attempts to focus on being a tale of "forbidden love" (depicted in the mildest of lights, of course), a mafia drama, and a fish-out-of-water comedy all at once, but unfortunately, not much effort is put into engaging the audience in any of these genres, let alone the combination of all three.
The actors don't seem too excited here either. Usher poses for the camera most of the time; Chriqui's part amounts to glorified window dressing; and Palminteri recites his Tough Mobster routine for the umpeenth time (you'd think ol' Chazz would be so tired of playing thugs by now, he'd demand to play Superman to balance everything out).
Still, despite almost every minute being as underwhelming as the last, In the Mix doesn't emerge as a completely worthless endeavor. Chriqui's charm carries the viewer through her scenes, and Palminteri's presence alone is always welcome. The movie also features some occasional stylish cinematography. In the end, however, In the Mix looks like a bland mob/musical/romance produced by Tiger Beat magazine.
MY RATING: * 1/2 (out of ****)
(Released by Lions Gate and rated "PG-13" for sexual content, violence and language.)