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Usher, acting make a bad 'Mix'

Lean back, Will Smith; Usher Raymond isn't coming after your big-screen job any time soon. At least not if ''In the Mix" is any indication.

In this latest film from director Ron Underwood (''The Adventures of Pluto Nash," ''City Slickers") the R&B/hip-hop heartthrob known simply as Usher takes a leading-man turn that might be compared to Smith's early crossover achievements. But if ''In the Mix" is positioned to announce Usher as a major movie star, it instead whispers that he may have revealed his full acting range in those guest appearances on TV's ''Moesha."

And still he may be overqualified for this lightweight screenplay by TV veteran Jacqueline Zambrano.

''In the Mix" finds Usher playing Darrell Williams, a handsome dance-club DJ with a female following as wide as his puppy dog smile. Darrell dreams of owning his own label, but in the meantime he can't refuse an invitation from mob boss Frank Pacelli (Chazz Palminteri) to spin records at a party for the don's daughter, Dolly (Emmanuelle Chriqui), who also happens to be a close childhood friend. Darrell doesn't count on a drive-by shooting or taking a bullet for Mr. Pacelli as part of the festivities, but that's what has to happen if the grateful mobster is to put him up in the family mansion while he recovers from his wounds.

Now, if you had a man as GQ fine as Usher under your roof, would you put him in charge of your daughter? Of course not. But that's what happens next -- Darrell becomes Dolly's loyal watchdog -- until pretty soon the story moves into ''The Bodyguard" territory, armed with even less heat than Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston brought to the table in 1992.

Usher may be musically talented and exceptionally huggable, but his acting is all one throwaway note, with no creative timing or spark to breathe life into a formulaic script such as this. Chriqui is perky but unhelpful; her Dolly is a light and less filling Meadow Soprano stuck in a ''Scooby-Doo" plot. And poor Palminteri; he has to be wondering how he wandered from ''A Bronx Tale" to here.

To compound the movie's many errors of judgment, ''In the Mix" actually spends very little time letting Darrell do his dance club thing. So the pulsing soundtrack is often wasted on ridiculous mob scenes, where a backbeat only calls attention to the fact that if the thugs were any more sugarcoated, they'd be lollipops.

Usher might be a nice guy, but he's no wannabe wise guy, even in this pretend world. And ''In the Mix" proves he's no threat to real movie stars.

Janice Page can be reached at

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