In The Mix
In the Mix stars a man known as "Usher," a highly popular Grammy Award-winning R&B singer, who also happens to have a few past credits in film and TV. During a promotional interview, the musician was asked how and why he got involved in this production. His answer, which included the word "demographic" close to a half-dozen times, left me convinced this movie was concentrating on the celebrity, and little else.
Carefully crafted to sell the man to his fans, the screenplay puts Usher in the role of Darrell, a hard working DJ with dreams of owning his own recording studio and label one day. To make sure we know he's the nicest and hottest guy imaginable, he's surrounded by a bevy of babes fawning over his every move. Of course he usually brushes off all this female attention because he's just too busy, but on the one occasion he does bring someone home to his apartment, the little girl down the hall interrupts the action. Does that make him angry? Not at all--he's the sweet and sensitive kind.
He's also heroic. We learn that after he agrees to play discs at the birthday party of his old friend Dolly (Emmanuelle Chriqui), the daughter of a Mafia don named Frank (Chazz Palminteri). Spinning a mix of Sinatra and hip-hop on his turntables, Darrell looks up just in time to see a passing vehicle with a gun pointing toward the family restaurant. When he jumps in to save her father, the bullet goes into his own shoulder instead.
In gratitude, Frank rewards the budding musician with room and board at the family mansion. These new accommodations allow Darrell and Dolly to rekindle their relationship, which (are we surprised?) blossoms into a burning romance before the end of the film. Before we get there though, there are the usual obstacles to overcome. The young woman already has a law student boyfriend and the handsome beau senses her father may not picture him as the perfect future son-in-law. As well, Dolly requests Darrell act as her bodyguard, providing plenty of opportunities for danger.
With all that careful orchestration, why does the final product still seem so out of tune? Oddly, it's not the usual suspect. Although Usher's performance is a little weak (as is often the case with a music star turned actor), Chriqui does an admirable job with what she was given to work with and lights up the screen with her beauty. And Palminteri, whose Italian heritage has left him playing mob roles for most of his life, walks through this part like he's done it a dozen times--and he has.
The real culprit is the script, which bubbles over with stereotypes of African-Americans and Italians. (In case you're confused, the Italians are the ones eating pasta leftovers from their Sub-Zero refrigerators, while the black guys are found in the dingy fried chicken restaurant.) Focusing far too heavily on those all-important demographics, the marketing team that engineered this work of "art" tries to cover all the bases. It's a comedy, a romance, and a crime drama, and it never aspires to any complexity. In order to enjoy the film's humor, you have to be convinced mob bosses are really nice guys with happy families, who simply have an unpleasant job to do.
Somewhere In The Mix there is a message about love and harmony between brothers of different races. However, by the time they get around to that lesson, the cultural depictions and glamorization of crime are already set in cement.