Film review: 'In the Mix' a lightweight yawn

Published: Thursday, Nov. 24 2005 12:00 a.m. MST

Darrell (Usher) and Dolly (Emmanuelle Chriqui) in "In the Mix."

Aeed Adyani, Lions Gate Films

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IN THE MIX — * 1/2 — Usher, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Anthony Fazio; rated PG-13 (sex, nudity, violence, profanity); Carmike 12 and Ritz 15 Theaters; Century Theatres 16; Cinemark 24 at Jordan Landing; Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons.

In all fairness to the makers and distributor of "In the Mix," I must disclose that this review is of a print that I saw two weeks ago, which I have been assured will have had changes made to its fourth reel by the time it reaches theaters today.

That new version, by the way, was not prescreened for critics. Therefore, in all fairness to anyone planning to see this starring vehicle for the R&B singer Usher, I must point out that the movie I saw became unsalvageable long before that fourth reel unspooled.

Though Usher exhibits the easy, likable charm we've seen him radiate in smaller film roles and on TV, there's just nothing the least bit credible for him or anyone else to hang a character onto in this lightweight yet leaden romantic crime comedy.

We know we're in trouble early on when Usher's Darrell, supposedly Manhattan's hottest dance DJ, is approached on stage by childhood friend Frankie Pacelli Jr. (Anthony Fazio). It's not so much that Junior's white boy wannabe-rapper trash talk is painfully out-of-date, inauthentic and unfunny (though it's meant to be humorous). What's really bad is when the presumably hipper black dudes respond to him, they sound just as street-cred clueless.

Anyway, Darrell's dear, departed dad used to tend bar at the restaurant owned by Frank's father (Chazz Palminteri), who's one of those nice Mafia dons. How nice? Well, he dotes on daughter Dolly (Emmanuelle Chriqui), who's just come back from law school with an Ivy League fiance in tow. Invited to spin at her return party, Darrell saves Dolly's life during a mob drive-by. Before he knows what hit him, Darrell is Dolly's bodyguard, and soon he's doing more than just guarding it.

Mild Romeo/Juliet complications and the lamest mob movie plot ever written sort of delay these two lovely, charming people's inevitable happy ending. Sicilian/African-American jokes of the least offensive sort don't provide laughs. Director Ron Underwood, who's been going steadily downhill since "City Slickers" ("Pluto Nash," anybody?), can't even stage a rudimentary shootout effectively. And if my math is right, the attempt to do so came after the fourth reel.

Geared solely to make Usher's youngest female fans squeal, "In the Mix" even edges back from the sexiness that could have been the one thing it easily got right. Darrell is supposed to be quite the player, and Chriqui, who appears on "The O.C." and "Entourage," projects a personality as beguiling as her looks. But these two never get hotter than anything that could threaten a 13-year-old on screen.

Even an R-rated director's cut wouldn't be enough to make me sit through "In the Mix" again.

"In the Mix" is rated PG-13 for sex, nudity, violence and language. Running time: 97 minutes.