Movie Review: Ponder the Sci-fi Paranoia of “Lapsis”

Here’s a good measure by how original a film is. How hard is it to come up with analogues, other titles this picture reminds you of?

The deftly paranoid indie “Lapsis” had me flashing back to “Brazil” and “Safety Not Guaranteed,” not that either of those films has that much in common with its story or style of storytelling.

It’s about people hired by this megalithic cable corporation to tow tiny trailers unspooling wiring as they follow their phones’ GPS directions to these cube-shaped monoliths, tucked away in state parks. They plug in and “make a connection.” This allows encrypted, secure communication to speed up stock trading. Apparently.

But what it’s really about it is the traps of modern life. It’s a lucrative, exhausting menial job in which “cablers” are monitored constantly and in competition with cable-towing robots. Everything about it is sketchy, from the hustlers who pitch it at “cabler” fairs, those who trade “medallions” that certify you for the work to the supervisors who send you to a suburban ranch-style house’s garage for your gear and even the manner of payment — cash can be elusive, “points” are not.

There’s a new illness spreading, “Omnia,” another “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” going around that prompts those who don’t have it to say, “Isn’t that the thing that’s all made up?”

That’s what Ray’s little brother Jamie has. That’s what has Ray (Dean Imperial) looking for something more lucrative than his airline luggage-delivery service gig, because Jamie (Babe Howard) needs to go to a very pricy clinic for treatment.

Health care is not a human right in this alternate reality, either.

A few words about Mr. Imperial. You’ve never seen him in anything. He was a writer for TV’s “Imposters.” He’s balding, with a middle-aged spread, mustachioed and always three days since his last desperately-needed shave.

And he sounds just like James Gandolfini. I mean DEAD ringer. If anybody out there in Internetland wants to create a “Further Adventures of Tony Soprano” podcast, here’s your guy.

Ray has, a stranger tells him on first meeting, “a ’70s mobster vibe going on.” Naturally he lives in Queens.

But as tough and streetsmart as he can seem, Ray’s got a lot of questions for the wide-eyed pitchwomen and pitchmen staffing the booths at the cabler’s trade fair/symposium and training session.

“Is it, for sure, safe?”

They assure him it is, without noting how out of shape he is and how in-shape he may need to be. They say nothing of cablers who’re “unjustly detained or penalized.”

And nobody, not them, the tech who shows a room full of cablers a staticky old “training” video, and not Felix (James McDaniel) who sells Rsy a previously-used “medallion,” the one with the “trail name” “Lapsis Beeftec,” can wholly explain this technology, why it’s needed in a wireless age and why all this cabling is done in the woods by women and men who march hither and yon all day and sometimes into the night on “routes” to the next “Quantum” cabling interface cube.

“I don’t know what they hell’s going on!”

On the trail, his friendly but wary fellow cablers start to fill him in. It’s not until he runs into the serenely cynical and “cabler”-wise Anna (Madeline Wise) that he and we start to get some answers, but even then it’s not remotely completely clear.

As nothing I’ve described to you costs more than a short trip to a Lowes, an REI (camping gear and backpacks) and a still-operating Radio Shack, you can tell this is sci-fi of the mind, not the budget. Noah Hutton’s film isn’t about the tech or even the story, it’s about “this strange unaccountable feeling,” as Douglas Adams once wrote, “that something was going on in the world, something big, even sinister, and no one would tell me what it was.”

Is Jamie’s illness “real” or a product of the medical/pharmaceutical complex? The upselling that goes on at his “clinic” (Arliss Howard plays the doctor/used-car salesman running it) makes Ray wonder.

Is everyone having a “Quantum computer” really necessary? It’s a “planned obsolescence” trap with government in on this required “upgrade,” basically insisting that you have it — like HDTV or Turbotax. If you don’t buy in, you’re all but stuck in an alternate reality.

There’s a “sold my soul to the company store” vibe about “Lapsis,” this sense that people are lured in, pulled into debt slavery, laboring at seemingly well-paid menial labor just to pay debts that have been conjured up by a rigged system — a bit like the rising, entrapping debt of banks, insurers and cell phone companies.

But this being a movie, maybe SOMEbody knows what’s really going on and SOME people are conspiring to do something about it.

One last analogy here might by the no-budget sci-fi “Primer,” not an iconic title in the genre, but minimalist science fiction that sticks with you for years and gives you a lot to chew on.

That’s Hutton’s gift of “Lapsis,” a puzzling picture that challenges, leaves out “all the answers” and serves up Tony Soprano-lite as our intrepid, in-over-his-head tour guide through a hell of our own creation.

MPA Rating: unrated, profanity

Cast: Dean Imperial, Madeline Wise, Babe Howard, James McDaniel, Ivory Aquino, Dora Madison and Arliss Howard

Credits: Scripted and directed by Noah Hutton. A Film Movement Plus release.

Running time: 1:44

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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