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Lapsis
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by Jay Seaver

"Nifty in ways this sort of small, smart sci-fi story doesn't always manage."
4 stars

SCREENING AT THE 2020 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Lapsis" takes place in a sort of alternate present, which is handy; the filmmakers not only don't have to pay a lot to build the future, but there's not a whole lot of specific futurism to get in the way of how they're talking about present-day issues. It doesn't always work well; there's a lot of chances for the actors to disconnect with the reality. In this case, thankfully, that's seldom a problem, even when the characters are themselves more than a bit thrown.

The big difference here is that in the movie's world, quantum computing has been invented, and major financial networks are built by threading cables between quantum nodes in isolated areas. Courier driver Ray (Dean Imperial) is not exactly a natural for such work - he's clearly not a guy who does wilderness hikes in his spare time - but his brother Jamie (Babe Howard) suffers from Omnia, a variant of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and the treatment costs a lot of money. Fortunately, he knows a guy (James McDaniel) who can get him a bootleg cabling medallion. It's a weird scene - routes assigned by apps, automated carts potentially stealing them while you sleep, armies of untended kids ambushing cablers to steal their equipment - and that's before Ray discovers that the identity on his medallion (username "Lapsis Beeftech") has left him with access to big-money routes and the resentment of a number of the other cablers, although he really doesn't understand why until he meets Anna (Madeline Wise) when their far-flung routes briefly intersect.

The ways quantum computing could change financial analysis in particular and the world's data infrastructure in general, or how all this cabling facilitates it, is given pretty close to zero time in the film, beyond it suddenly leaving everything on the entire old internet obsolete, and that's fine. That sort of disruption is worth having stories told about it, but it leads to other disruptions closer to the ground, and writer/director Noah Hutton zeroes in on how the big companies have an invisible monopoly and create a gig economy designed to make worker organization almost impossible. Hutton doesn't do much to hide what he's doing, right down to having the characters literally having to stay ahead of robots that are trying to snipe their jobs, but it's worth doing in part because a lot of tech-savvy science fiction fans might not have looked that closely at the economic aspects of their favorite app-based services.

The characters talking about such things are also well-chosen, especially Dean Imperial's working-class protagonist Ray. Ray's the kind of guy who another character describes as having "70s mobster" looks and could be played with a chip on his shoulder or an excess of attitude, but Imperial plays him as kind of defensive rather than pugnacious, really capturing defensiveness and tentative aggression as well as a certain basic decency. There's a low-key comfort to how he and Babe Howard play as brothers, especially since Howard has the leading-man looks but is playing a sidekick of sorts, but without a lot of rancor or easy drama from the role reversal. There's also something fun about how Anna and Ray don't seem to belong in the same story, which Madeline Wise and Imperial don't hide from while doing a nice job of making them find common ground.

They fit into a story that has grand implications but never gets bigger than the movie can handle, maybe making a couple big steps late but mostly doing a good job of building while still seeming grounded. The world-building is done well without needing much if any CGI enhancement, from the weirdly placed exit signs in the first screen to the magnetic connectors without specific ports on the nodes. Even as it's not the main point, Hutton and company use these computing centers taking over parkland and a self-storage app that I'm kind of surprised doesn't exist in real life to show how big business is swallowing the rest of the world.

It's maybe not the sort of grand science fiction material that reaches out of the screen and grabs the audience in obvious ways, but it's smart and clever, and is also enjoyable to watch without feeling sanitized or simplified. A lot of movies trying to do the same thing feel abstracted or antiseptic, but that's happily not the case here.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=33606&reviewer=371
originally posted: 08/16/20 22:07:53
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Directed by
  Noah Hutton

Written by
  Noah Hutton

Cast
  Dean Imperial
  Madeline Wise
  Babe Howard
  Ivory Aquino
  Dora Madison



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