One of Usher’s biggest hits is the insanely catchy dance tune “Yeah.”
The response to his new movie, “In the Mix,” however, is much more likely to be, “No thanks.” (Or, as distributor Lions Gate Films seemed to be saying by refusing to show the movie to critics before opening day, “Why bother?”)
“In the Mix” seems to exist solely to showcase the gorgeous R&B star in an array of stylish, flawlessly tailored suits — and, more importantly, out of them. Barely five minutes pass before we first see Usher with his shirt off, allowing the self-professed gym rat to brandish his six-pack abs. (But who’s counting?)
While he does have a certain undeniable charisma, what he’s doing in his first starring role can’t exactly be called acting. Then again, he certainly doesn’t have much to work with.
The movie, from Ron Underwood (who also directed “City Slickers” and, far less successfully, “The Adventures of Pluto Nash”) is painfully stiff, filled with mob stereotypes and music cliches. There literally is a guy named Fat Tony whose entire raison d’etre is to sit around and cram sandwiches in his face.
Fat Tony’s boss — everyone’s boss — is Mafia don Frank Pacelli (Chazz Palminteri, who should know better having written “A Bronx Tale”). Usher’s character, New York DJ and wannabe record producer Darrell Williams, has known the Pacelli family for years and just happens to be there to take a bullet for Frank during a rival mob’s hit attempt.
Nursing his injured shoulder at Frank’s ostentatious New Jersey estate, Darrell becomes the reluctant bodyguard to Frank’s daughter, Dolly (Emmanuelle Chriqui). The two have been friends since childhood and, you got it, sparks fly — or at least we’re supposed to believe sparks fly. Everything about their relationship is stilted and self-conscious. Still, this is one of those romantic comedies in which there’s never any doubt that the attractive young stars will end up together — and never any reason to care if they do.
There’s not much reason to care, either, about the silly subplot about the rival gangs they have to deal with. Or about Dolly’s annoying younger brother, one of those witless posers — a white boy who thinks he’s black, wears oversized clothes and jewelry and says things in affected slang like, “Peep this, son,” and “Dog, I know she groove on your tracks.” It took four screenwriters to come up with this stuff, and the gag was already old when Jamie Kennedy made an entire movie out of it with “Malibu’s Most Wanted” in 2003.