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‘Mayhem!’ Review: Just When You Think You’re Out

No one in the mood for subtlety or nuance is likely to be beckoned by “Mayhem!,” a slugfest that cleaves to its title with punishing fidelity. A mood board of mashing, slashing, snapping and splintering, this feature, directed by Xavier Gens, is revenge-movie cliché ground down to the studs.

Our rampaging antihero is Samir (Nassim Lyes), a French-Algerian parolee determined to uncouple from his troubled past. His former associates, however, have other ideas; and when Samir is forced to put the kibosh on one of them, his only remaining option is to flee. Five years later, we find him happily settled in East Thailand with a wife (Loryn Nounay), an adorable stepdaughter (Chananticha Tang-Kwa) and a baggage-handling job. This paradise soon implodes when a yen for beachfront property leads Samir to a local gangster (Olivier Gourmet) whose eyebrows outnumber his scruples.

Hobbled by a stoic lead character who is all muscle and no mouth (Samir is about as voluble as the original Terminator), “Mayhem!” is emotionally stagnant. Yet Gens and his action designer, Jude Poyer, have clearly benefited from working on the dazzlingly destructive AMC series “Gangs of London,” and they stage the film’s battles with brutal grace. The stunt work is often extraordinary — notably in an elevator melee that unfolds like a deadly game of Twister — and Lyes, a former French kickboxing champion, has moves most action stars can only approximate.

These are some consolation for a plot that smothers its immigrant heart beneath a blanket of blood and sweat. Though when the system blocks you from doing the right thing, sometimes your only recourse is to slice open a stomach or two. In slow motion, of course.

Rated R for seamy nightlife and shattering violence. In French, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. In theaters and available to rent or buy on most major platforms.

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