In the Mix

Darrell (Usher) is a struggling DJ looking for his big break. Taking a gig for mob family, Darrell reconnects with an old friend, Dolly (Emmanuelle Chriqui, the NSync film, “On the Line”), and her father, mob boss Frank (Chazz Palminteri). When the evening goes violently wrong, and Darrell ends up taking a bullet intended for Frank, the family welcomes the young man as one of their own. Given an assignment to protect Dolly everywhere she goes, Darrell finds himself falling for the girl, infuriating the family in the process.

Usher, the multi-platinum, Grammy-winning R&B singer, has toyed with the silver screen for the last few years, taking supporting roles here and there in forgettable pictures (“Light it Up,” “Texas Rangers”). Now, with “In the Mix,” the superstar has a forgettable picture he can call his own.

Admittedly, “In the Mix” is made for teenage girls. The film isn’t challenging in the least, and only appears to be a vehicle for Usher to take off his shirt and surround himself with co-stars who fawn over him like he was made of ice cream cake. I don’t think anyone is expecting Usher to burn up the screen with a slab of raging cinema, but the depths of stupidity that “Mix” plunges to are alarming, even for something this intentionally insignificant. Even Elvis’s lousy films had a certain pop culture sense of charm. “In the Mix” is just punishing.

I guess when you make what most industry watchers call the biggest bomb in movie history (“The Adventures of Pluto Nash”), Usher stars to look good to you, which explains why Ron Underwood took the directing gig here. Underwood (“Tremors,” “City Slickers”) isn’t a reliable filmmaker, but he’s way above this mess, and you can almost smell his straight-to-video panic in the theater air.

The screenplay by Jacqueline Zambrano, a television veteran, is based entirely on stereotypes. Opening with obvious mafia figures and dim-witted clubgoers, the film quickly begins to rely on the stupidity of the target demo to ignore the offensive material being handed to them. Zambrano broadly arranges the Italian (they only eat pasta and are involved with organized crime) and African-American (they all carry weapons and eat fatty foods) characters, crescendoing with her greatest offense: the suburban white kid who acts hip-hop. There’s some truly inexcusable writing in “Mix,” made even worse by Underwood’s willingness to go along with it and actors who should be ashamed of themselves for participating.

But who cares about the rest of the filmr This is Usher’s show, and the million-dollar question is: can he actr The answer is no, at least not in a starring role. I can see the singer’s specific, dimpled charms going a long way to fog this ghastly movie for many, but any scene that puts him to the dramatic test demonstrates harshly that Usher should stick to the music business. Usher is incapable of drumming up chemistry with Chriqui, and any moments of “palling” around with his co-stars looks stiff and unrehearsed. “In the Mix” matches Usher in the amateur department, and he should thank his lucky stars the film itself is often worse than his acting.

Rating: F