Mayhem is the latest in a long line of movies designed to remind us that corporate striving is a soul deadening pursuit.
Mayhem is the latest in a long line of movies designed to remind us that corporate striving is a soul deadening pursuit. The premise offered by writer Matias Caruso and director Joe Lynch is a little bit Fight Club, a hint of 28 Days Later and just a smattering of The Purge and the third act of Kingsman: The Secret Service: how would you spend an eight-hour quarantine infected by a virus that elevates your id while trapped with all the people you hate at work knowing you are not legally responsible for your actions?
If you’re like Derek Cho (Steven Yeun), you want to kill your bosses and a bevy of coworkers while taking a hero’s journey that reignites your flickering soul. Cho works at the sort of high-powered law firm that defends big banks from small mortgage holders and creates legal loopholes for well-heeled murderers driven mad by an outside agent like the fictional ID-7 virus. Cho constructed the temporary insanity by virus defense for the firm in the first few months of his employment. His ensuing promotion coincides with the crushing of his soul. He remains a zombie within the corporate culture, but his suits keep getting better. Then one day it all falls apart.
The day begins with the grand theft of his favorite coffee cup – a yellow ceramic gift from his sister, the neglected sunshine in his life – followed by a meeting with Melanie Cross (Samara Weaving), a mortgage holder attempting to invade the legal machine to face those who would repossess her home. Cho has her escorted out before engaging in a power struggle with his immediate superior (Caroline Chikezie) known as “The Siren” due to her power over the head partner at the firm. She has set him up to take the fall for her own multi-million-dollar mistake and stolen his coffee cup, her malevolent lipstick staining the rim. Cho loses the fight and is getting his own security escort at the very moment CDC and SWAT teams quarantine the building. ID-7 presents itself by causing one eye to redden. The infection kicks in and the lobby is full of power suits, scarlet eyes and base urges. Fists fly and Cho decides it’s time to dismember his way to the top.
The movie begins with a group of people beating the shit out of each other in slow motion while classical music plays and a voiceover lays out the groundwork. Thoughts of A Clockwork Orange rightly spring to mind as Lynch and his team indicates the familiar ground they are about to tread. The problem is the degree of difficulty it takes to make tales of disaffected, pugnacious young men interesting anymore. Yes, capitalism makes monsters of us all, but perhaps that rage could be directed toward some pro bono work for a worthy cause or even a different career path. And while the filmmakers would argue that such a critique has nothing to do with the satire they put forth, you’ll find yourself so distracted counting the homages to better movies that the point of this one will prove elusive. Mayhem has style and energy but only through larceny.
Yet there is a reason to stick with the movie: Steven Yeun. Quite ceremoniously dispatched from his sanctimonious role as Glenn on “The Walking Dead,” he gets to chew a little scenery while establishing himself as a leading man. He plays Derek Cho like the anti-Glenn, slavish to the corporate culture he is self-aware enough to despise. Once infected by the virus, Yeun gets to be profanely funny, exorcising the humorlessness of his breakthrough character from memory. Glenn used to save everybody; Derek is more likely to shove a screwdriver through their temple. Watching him define his abilities as an actor is worth the time investment, but it’s the only unexpected pleasure you’ll find here.
Back in 2000, the hot indie was Boiler Room, but if you had seen Glengarry Glen Ross, Boiler Room kind of sucked. That’s exactly how it feels watching Mayhem. If you’ve never seen, for example, Die Hard, The Warriors, Kick-Ass or Deadpool, this movie may grab you, but if you have seen any of the movies it references this will play like the power fantasy of a man in a cubicle with a picture of a window adhered to his wall. He will never have a real window. They are above his pay grade. And coffee is for closers.