Kickin’ it with the mob looks pretty smooth in “In the Mix,” a pleasantly tuned vehicle for R&B star and budding actor Usher, who plays a club deejay recruited to protect a mob boss’ beautiful daughter. Inexplicably not screened for critics before its pre-Thanksgiving release, PG-13 pic is inoffensively designed to appeal to the broadest possible multi-cultural crowd, and should keep enough weekend moviegoers busy for a few frames through the holidays.
Brooklyn hip-hop spinmeister Darrell (Usher) knows how to work up his club crowd — and the ladies — into a lather, but he fancies starting his own Atlantic Records-style label with partner Busta (Kevin Hart).
Hired by classy mobster Frank (Chazz Palminteri) to handle the music at a surprise homecoming party for Frank’s daughter Dolly (Emmanuelle Chriqui), Darrell is happy to do the job as he is grateful to Frank for the support he gave to Darrell’s late father. Nonetheless, Darrell’s heart sinks a little when he sees Dolly has a rich beau named Chad (Geoff Stults).
At the party, Darrell not only works the vinyl, but takes a bullet when gunmen fire at Frank during the bash.
Determined to keep Dolly safe during her break from law school in Berkeley, Frank demands that she have a bodyguard. In turn, willful Dolly demands her choice of bodyguard: Darrell.
In a sequence that allows Usher to exude the charm of an attentive gentleman rather than a bling-bling player, Darrell serves as a gal-magnet while accompanying Dolly about New York on her errands, from yoga to lunch with her girlfriends.
The laid-back midsection of “In the Mix” lulls the viewer into forgetting that Dolly is related to the mob at all. Instead, it coasts along with her attempting a slow seduction of Darrell, while telling corporate-dull Chad to take a hike.
Even when Jacqueline Zambrano’s ultra-predictable script can’t postpone the routine plot machinations any longer, however, pic is never too insulting to the viewer, and works up a fair amount of goodwill by the good graces of Usher’s Will Smithian charisma and an extremely attractive filmmaking package wrapped by director Ron Underwood, making a welcome recovery from his last feature, “The Adventures of Pluto Nash.”
Support thesping is uneven, ranging from stock but solid actors like Robert Davi and Robert Costanzo as Frank’s good fellas to an annoying turn from Anthony Fazio as Frank’s hip-hop obsessed son.
If “In the Mix” raises any questions at all, it’s why a film starring Usher is so inauthentic in its depiction of the pop music world, and yet so comfortable in its light portrayal of a Mafia family. There’s no question, though, that pic’s most striking contribution is d.p. Clark Mathis’ color-saturated lensing.