I don’t know what I was thinking going into In the Mix with any sort of expectations. I’m not sure what caused me to think a movie that brought together hip-hop and mafia lifestyles would be any good. After all, if the movie was the least bit worthwhile someone else would be reviewing it. Maybe it was a case of hoping Usher could prove to be the music industry’s Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, crossing over with a successful film career; maybe it was fan obsession of one of the best New York actors to hit the screen, Chazz Palminteri; maybe I was hypnotized by the absolute cuteness of Emmanuelle Chriqui. Whatever caused it, I didn’t see the travesty of In the Mix coming until it was too late. Hopefully my words can serve as a warning to anyone else as foolish as I was.
Usher headlines In the Mix as Darrell, a popular club DJ whose father used to work for an overly obvious Mafia Don (Palminteri). When the Don’s daughter Dolly (Chriqui) returns home from college Darrell is brought in to DJ the event, and winds up saving the mobster boss’s life. As a plot to harm the Don unfolds it is decided Dolly needs protection, and who better to serve as her bodyguard then a simple club DJ? Anyone who's ever seen The Bodyguard or heard “I Will Always Love You” can guess where the story goes next. In fact, In the Mix could almost be considered a Bodyguard-lite, custom tailored to the teenage crowd starring one of the most popular music stars around.
To be totally fair, Usher is not bad in this film. His acting doesn’t hurt the picture, which is pretty busy dealing with its own problems. These vary from an overly simplistic storyline, to forced dialogue, to confused cinematography, to direction that only lacks the slapstick comedy the usually comes with David Zucker’s name on it to be a complete spoof of everything hip-hop and Mafia. Lacking that slapstick element though, the film is left borderline offensive to both Italians and African-Americans. In the Mix uses as many crappy stereotypes and archetypes as possible to tell its story.
First of all, you have the typical Mafia henchmen, one of which has to be fat - in this case nicknamed Fat Tony and played by a constantly eating Robert Costanzo. Then you have the poor, black best friend to Darrell, a guy who is hangs on Darrell’s success in an attempt to meet women. What’s worse, this particular best friend is played by Kevin Hart, the economy version of Chris Tucker. Do we really need more then one Chris Tucker in the world? How many black men are there out there who speak like that? The movie takes place in a world where all black men carry guns, all Italians are connected, and we get great lines like “You may run the family of New Jersey but you do not run me!” and “What’s your father gonna think when I tell him you’ve got a taste of Jungle Fever”. Really, who talks like that? The fact that the movie has the least established actor delivering that last line is evidence: no self respecting Mafioso (or even make-believe Mafioso) is willing to say those lines.
If I honestly thought those kind of characters and moments were as intentionally bad as they came across as, I’d consider this movie a potential success. Unfortunately I don’t think that’s the case. While In the Mix goes beyond the realm of good taste, it just doesn’t go far enough to enter the realm of bad taste. Sure you have lame archetypes in play for the majority of the characters, but they aren’t handled with any sort of parodic wit. There is an overbearing score that stops just short of adding in a brutal “bum-bum-bum!” when a major revelation is made, but it isn’t consistent, and really only appears when appropriate hip-hop music couldn’t be found. My favorite bit has to be the key moment in the film, when Darrell takes a bullet intended for Palminteri in the shoulder, and then Darrell has no problem using his shoulder for the rest of the film. Instead, he has a bad case of disappearing/reappearing bandage. If any of these things were done intentionally this could be great as cheesy parody movie... but it’s apparent it wasn’t intended that way, making the movie a legitimate failure.
In the Mix is not all bad. It does have Emmanuelle Chriqui in the leading female role. That’s not to say she’s a great actress, in fact I wouldn’t go looking for her to appear on any awards shows anytime soon. However I wouldn't be surprised to see her stuck up on the walls and computer screens of teenage boys everywhere to... um... contemplate her beauty. She is well cast in a film designed to target the PG-13 teenage crowd. Chriqui replaces Jessica Alba on my list of top Hollywood beauties and manages to put in a fairly decent performance too.
In the end most people will blame Usher for In the Mix, which really isn’t fair. Instead that blame should go to director Ron Underwood who has brought us excellent films in the past like City Slickers, but more recently pictures of lesser quality like The Adventures of Pluto Nash. I suggest Underwood be relegated to more Tremors sequels until he either learns how to create a properly cheesy film or he gets so tired of movie making he loses all interest. Either way, Underwood should never be allowed to bring us another In the Mix.