Thursday, February 11, 2021

Lapsis: The Alternate Gig Economy

New York City taxi medallions used to be worth a fortune. In the past, they effectively acted like a guild, prohibiting low-skilled workers from engaging in the relatively straightforward and plentiful work of shuttling people from one point to another. Then the disruptive technology of ride-share apps came along and devastated the value of taxi medallions. In an alternate present day, something similar happened to the independent “cablers” literally laying the wires for the quantum computing explosion. However, the disruption they face comes from within their own industry in screenwriter-director Noah Hutton’s odd Lapsis, which releases on VOD and digital platforms tomorrow.

Ray Tincelli is a tough-looking Queens guy, but he is also a nice dude, who has been dealt a tough hand by circumstances. His half-brother Jamie requires treatments for a near-futuristic variant of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, but Tincelli is already in debt and he will soon loose his dodgy part-time gig. Out of desperation, Tincelli agrees to participate in a crooked cabling scheme, kicking back a portion of his take to small-time crime boss Felix, in return for the use of senior level cabling medallion.

Theoretically, Tincelli should skip past a lot of dues-paying by using the medallion, but everyone gives him the stink-eye when they see his medallion handle: “Lapsis Beeftech.” Apparently, it means something to the more experienced cablers, but Tincelli has no idea why. He is also surprised to learn he must compete with automated crawler-robots to keep his “route” dragging cable across a nature preserve. He really isn’t in proper condition for this kind of gig, but at least Anna, a more experienced (and more rebellious) cabler explains a few things for him.

Lapsis is intended as a withering critique of capitalism and the gig economy, but the economic ecosystem Hutton creates just doesn’t make any sense. Maybe it would be more cost-efficient to replace cablers with robots, but having them both scramble to lay cable over the same route is just going to lead to a lot of wasted cable and also the expense of fruitless robot power and maintenance whenever the human cabler wins. The entire premise is impractical, but it is highly symbolic—like beat us over the head symbolic.

Yet, the weird thing is Dean Imperial and Madeline Wise are so engaging as Tincelli and Anna, we sort of buy into it anyway. Instead of playing the former like a Joe Pesci-wannabe, Imperial taps into his vulnerability, insecurity, and decency as a kind of lunkheaded guy who has just been outpaced by the world. Likewise, Wise’s Anna is convincingly smart and tough, but not mean. As a result, it is surprisingly entertaining to watch them debate and sort of-kind of flirt.

James McDaniel (who most people will recognize as Lt. Fancy on
NYPD Blue) is also terrific as the sleazy but dangerous Felix. Based on his work in Lapsis, it is a shame he hasn’t played more villains over the years. Frank Wood also helps keep us intrigued as an ambiguous mystery man, who might hold some answers.

Somehow, Hutton fumbles the big
Norma Rae climax, but who needs it anyway? His characters are strong, so the film works better when it focuses on them rather than its dubious moralizing. Isn’t that always the case? Recommended mostly for the performances, especially Imperial as the working class Tincelli, Lapsis releases tomorrow (2/12) on VOD.