Usher Moonlights as Mafia Bodyguard in Cross-Cultural Romance
In the Mix
Rated PG-13 for sex, expletives and violence.
Running time: 97 minutes
Distributor: Lions Gate Films
Film Review by Kam Williams Excellent (3.5 Stars)
You know that times have certainly changed when you see an American-made movie about a black DJ from the ’hood who steals the heart of the lawyer daughter of a white Mafia kingpin and the brother ends up welcomed into the family rather than swimming with the fishes. But that's just what we have with In the Mix, a delightful dramedy which features handsome, R&B heartthrob Usher in his first starring role.
Inspired as much by such mobster comedies as Analyze This and The Whole Nine Yards as by Romeo and Juliet interpretations like West Side Story and Romeo Must Die, this transparent tale makes light of all manner of cross-cultural differences while taking its own sweet time to arrive at its happily-ever-after grand finale. Traditionally, Hollywood has treated interracial screen romances as ill-fated exercises in futility to the point where we've been socialized to react to the mere presence of a mixed couple as a source of tension.
I have recognized this deeply-ingrained prejudice in myself most often when watching a film from other parts of the world, especially Arab countries, Brazil or France. What invariably happens is that after a relationship is established between a black and a white character, I sit there expecting for some issue to be explored revolving around skin color. But then I always feel a little embarrassed when the film ends without ever addressing that as a theme.
In the U.S., however, it's different, so it generally has fallen to a rebel like Dennis Rodman to be daring enough to flaunt convention. So, in Simon Sez, Dennis, in the title role as a gun slinging secret agent, emerged victorious despite enjoying a steamy sex scene with an attractive white woman along the way. Although the movie didn't make much money, it nonetheless marked a seminal moment in the history of cinema.
Similarly, In the Mix is of equal interest, because it also flips the script in a challenging fashion certain to make many American audiences uncomfortable. For Usher's character, Darrell Williams, isn't exactly a boy-most-likely type, like the practically perfect doctor Sidney Poitier played in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.
In fact, not only is Darrell just a struggling DJ, but he's a jive player who's already juggling a few girls, among them a caf’ au lait cutie named Cherise (K.D. Aubert). Dolly (Emmanuelle Chriqui), by contrast, is relatively responsible, having just arrived back in town after finishing her second year of law school.
Darrell and Dolly's paths cross when he is hired to play music at a homecoming party being thrown in her honor by her proud papa, Frank Pacelli (Chazz Palminteri) at his restaurant in New York's Little Italy. Darrell only got the job, because his own late father had been the bartender at Pacelli’s. It's lust at first sight for these former childhood acquaintances who hadn’t seen each other in years.
After Darrell takes a bullet intended for Frank during an attempted hit by a competing mob family, the grateful patriarch rewards the act of bravery by hiring him as his daughter's bodyguard. This inadvertently makes it easy for the two to venture all over the city openly, yet secretly, at least until they are outed by one of Dolly's spurned suitors.
The moment of truth finally arrives when Pacelli has to wrestle with his own conscience and face the fact that his only objection to their union has to do with Darrell's being African-American. While waiting for his blessing, look for humorous asides provided in the way of comic relief by a couple of shameless scene stealers, Kevin Hart as Darrell's clownish best friend, and Anthony Fazio as black wannabe Frank, Jr.
Still, overall, In the Mix is the type of film which works to the extent that the two leads are able to generate a palpable chemistry between them. And since Usher and Emmanuelle easily achieve that air of authenticity, the movie engages and holds the viewer in the same fashion as the best of the romance genre.