You never want to grade a movie on the curve, but where B, C or D movies are concerned, exceptions are made.
“Mayhem” has two not-quite-names in the cast — star Steven Yeun, of “The Walking Dead,” and character actor extraordinaire Dallas Roberts (“Walk the Line,” “Dallas Buyers Club”). And actor-turned-director Joe Lynch is best known for direct-to-video (or close to it) genre thrillers such as “Everly.”
But is has a death-dealing virus set up and a claustrophobic setting — an office building (shades of “The Belko Experiment”). There’s a satiric anti-corporate greed/office culture edge and a video-game plot that has our blood-lusting hero and heroine slaughtering their way up to the board of directors.
And the Matias Caruso script is just laced with catch-phrase friendly dialogue.
“Put the fear of ME in them,” the big boss bellows to the murderous minions who would defend him from the revenge of an unjustly-fired underling and a furious foreclosure victim.
A couple bickers, mid-“Mayhem” — over their “Top Three Bands” list. “Motorhead…Anthrax. What? You thought I’d say The Dave Matthews Band?'”
“Hey, you should hear them LIVE!”
“I’d rather chew glass.”
It all adds up to a gonzo, LOL/WTF splatter thriller, a goof of a spoof that never loses sight of an “Us v. THEM” subtext, with the players wringing every last drop of gory fun out of it.
Yeun plays Dexter (A hint?) Cho, our narrator and hero, the once-idealistic young lawyer who has sucked up the company ladder and seen his soul sucked out in the process. A rival vixen known as “The Siren” (Caroline Chikezie of “Aeon Flux,” sexy-fierce and hate-able) sets him up to take the fall with the Big Guy (Steven Brand) for a botched account. And no amount of pleading, complaining or confiding in the one co-worker who would listen saves him.
Worse still, he’s just given short shrift to a foreclosure victim (Samara Weaving), ruining Melissa’s life and getting security to muscle her out of the hi-rise where Town & Smythe Consultants (“We consult because we care!”) resides. Talk about a sell-out.
And worst of all? The world is in the grip of the ID-7 virus, an “emotional hijacking” “Red-Eye” plague that doesn’t kill you, but enrages victims and strips them of self-control, the social filters that keep us from wiping each other out.
HQ is quarantined, with Dexter and Melissa locked in a maintenance room, tortured by “security” thugs. Until they turn the tables. Until they arm themselves — with hammers, nail guns and “extreme measures.”
And that’s when the slaughter begins. If they can get past the slippery, amoral self-preserving human resources monster (Dallas Roberts, hilarious) and through legions of corporate drones up to “The Nine” — the eighth floor, where the Big Boss and Board of Directors lay low — SOMEbody’s going to learn the cost of the euphemism “reduction in force.”
How’d this or that fight come out?
“Natural selection happened!”
I laughed at a number of pithy put-downs, and there’s a cackle or three in the Darwinian/”Lord of the Flies” breakdown in what was already a callous, cruel and murderous culture depicted here.
The color-blind casting deserves praise. Derek is Asian-American for no stereotypical “reason” (unless that helps this sell in the Chinese market) and the Korean-American Yeun has a light touch with this heavy character. The worthiest villain is a ruthless, smart, “strong black woman,” again for no special reason (Although, again, China might go for that).
Chikezie is scary, Roberts is a stitch and the fights are grueling in their realism. Nobody has superhuman strength, just native cunning and the willingness to use whatever’s handy to deliver “That’s the VIRUS talking” justice to those who stand in their way.
It’s a funny, bloody mess, but a polished C-movie that aspires to B-movie status. And Yeun, Chikezie, Weaving (she’s Hugo Weaving’s Margot Robbie look-alike niece) and Roberts make “Mayhem” memorable, and quotable along the way.
MPAA Rating: R for bloody violence, pervasive language, some sexuality/nudity and drug use
Cast: Steven Yeun, Samara Weaving, Caroline Chikezie, Dallas Roberts
Credits:Directed by Joe Lynch, script by Matias Caruso. An RLJ Entertainment release.
Running time: 1:27