Scraping the Barrel: #91, ‘In the Mix’

Thousands and thousands of films are made every year. And while some of them are destined for Oscar glory and widespread Metacritic acclaim, others wind up scraping the barrel on the IMDB Bottom 100. What makes these films so universally despised? Are they all really that bad? And, seriously, what’s the deal with From Justin to Kelly? We’ll answer all these questions (and hopefully more) with “Scraping the Barrel,” in which we review the ENTIRETY of the bottom 100, in order.

In today’s installment, Mark Pursell takes a closer look (when he’s able to uncover his eyes) at #91, 2005′s In the Mix.

(Editor Note: We realize the Bottom 100 has changed slightly since we began this series. Our master list was frozen in July 2013.)

The Gist: A handsome New York DJ is hired as a bodyguard for a mob boss’s daughter after he saves the don’s life in a drive-by shooting, but their relationship doesn’t stay professional for long…

Those Who Shall Be Held Responsible: Story by Chanel Capra, Cara Dellaverson, and Brian Rubenstein. Screenplay by Jacqueline Zambrano. Directed by Ron Underwood.

IMDB Stats: 2.5

The Straight Dirt:

Is there any Hollywood trope more intrinsically cringeworthy than the pop-star crossover vehicle? Glitter, Crossroads, Burlesque, From Justin to Kelly, most of Madonna’s and Whitney Houston’s cinematic oeuvre: These are names inscribed with gleeful schadenfreude in the annals of celluloid embarrassment. Many of them are imbued with a “so bad it’s good” quality, mostly by dint of the novelty that comes with seeing our favorite, flawlessly-complected chanteurs and chanteuses cavorting in what usually amounts to a 90-minute long music video. Britney can’t act, but so what? It’s Britney! Even watching her marionette her way through a derivative road-trip movie is a lot of fun, depending on how mean-spirited you want to be.

The truth is that a lot of singers who achieve widespread fame and exposure often turn their eye to film. What’s less easy to articulate is exactly why. For some, it makes sense: The Justin Timberlakes of the world have had one foot in theater and television since prepubesence, which makes it less shocking when they turn out to have on-screen charisma even when displaced from MTV. For others, though, the decision to try their hand at acting (usually as the star of their own movie) seems to come from a place of business rather than artistic inspiration. Having accumulated a certain level of success in the music industry, movies are the next kingdom to conquer — an avenue for brand expansion and an opportunity to turn oneself into a global, multimedia phenomenon (Cher, Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand, and in a more contemporary sense, Justin Timberlake himself). The problem, of course, is that this desire is rarely coupled with actual talent. Acting in music videos, as many of these pop titans and tarts discover, is very little like acting in a movie, and the results are usually laughable even when they’re relatively unassuming.

That’s actually one thing you can say about 2005’s In the Mix: It doesn’t necessarily try to mask how silly it is, but that openness of purpose doesn’t yield a lot of entertainment mileage. Mix is a platform for pop/R&B heavyweight Usher, whose pop culture capital is made up of equal parts sultry grooves and his stunning physical assets. (If you’re unfamilar, go Google “Usher shirtless.” I’ll wait). The title and the general premise — Usher plays an up-and-coming New York City DJ named Darrell — had me convinced before I pressed play that I was about to experience a Glitter-style fantasia, a thinly-veiled biography about a young talent’s rise to musical fame (and subsequent, prerequisite burnout, followed by transcendant comeback in the final act). Imagine my surprise — and I mean that word at its most ambivalent — when Darrell’s DJing turned out to be largely irrelevant to the main plot.

So, if it’s not about “Darrell’s” music career, then what the hell is In the Mix about?

Well. It’s a mob drama, dontchaknow?

If you just made a WTF face, you’re in good company here. Turns out that Darrell has a long-time connection with one of the city’s most powerful Mafia families (His father and the current don knew each other, and Darrell has grown up knowing the don’s children). The don himself is played by none other than Chazz Palmintieri, who seems as confused as we are about what movie he’s in and why. After Darrell is asked to DJ at one of the don’s parties, he reconnects with the don’s daughter, Dolly (who, played by Emmanuelle Chriqui, has of course grown up to be quite beautiful). In short order, though, a drive-by shooting disrupts the party, and in the chaos, Darrell takes a bullet for the don. Impressed by the young man’s courage and quick action, the don asks Darrell to stay on with his household as a bodyguard for Dolly.

In the movie’s defense, the screenwriter does take a stab at giving verisimilitude to this nonsensical plot point. Dolly mulishly refuses to have a big hulking Benny follow her around with a snub-nosed sticking out of his Armani even in the wake of the shooting, so the don’s compromise is to allow her to be escorted around town by someone she sees as a friend. Darrell’s lack of martial prowess or gun skills seem not to be an issue (though the don does have a second lieutenant secretly follow the couple and ensure that things don’t get dicey). Unfortunately, it’s all so convoluted towards the goal of Dolly and Darrell spending some steamy time together, building towards their inevitable romance, that the feeble attempts to underscore the situation with realism don’t stick.

Weirdly enough, Usher and Chriqui aren’t devoid of chemistry, but neither is a good enough actor to make their hamfisted romance enjoyable even as a guilty pleasure. Their “will they, won’t they” tango proceeds with overfamiliar patterns of connection/disconnection that provide little of lasting interest. Things pick up in the second half — the don threatens to kill Darrell if he continues his affair with Dolly, and a subplot involving the family’s attempt to discover who attacked them comes to expected, saw-it-from-a-mile-away fruition — but by the obligatory final wedding scene, you’re left wondering who on earth decided it would be a good idea to bankroll a milquetoast, R&B Godfather riff.

Consensus: Of all the pop-star movies out there, In the Mix has the distinction of being one of the most boring I’ve ever seen. They could have at least livened it up with some musical numbers. Or more naked Usher. Or something.

Should-Be IMDB Score: 1.5

Random Quotes/Thoughts:

This isn’t the first time that lead actress Emanuelle Chriqui has starred opposite a famous pop star in an ill-conceived cinematic vehicle. She was also the romantic interest in 2001’s On the Line, which starred N*SYNC’s Lance Bass as an advertising executive looking for (heterosexual) love. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen. Lance Bass. Looking for lady love. With the running plot thread that his character is too shy/awkward around women and doesn’t know how to talk to them. No comment. The movie also stars the bubblegum supergroup’s Joey Fatone as Bass’s roommate/comic relief. I’d kind of like to ask Emmanuelle Chriqui if, when she received the offer to star in In the Mix, no one in her camp said, “Remember the last time you tried something like this…?”

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