This sensitive but flawed sci-fi comic dystopia walks the strange new frontier of the modern gig economy that has also been explored by Ken Loach’s Sorry We Missed You and Nomadland. It takes place, like Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, in an innocuous present tinged with an Instagram-filter of light futurism. And it is driven by a similar sly ideological fury as Sorry to Bother You – only it is even more absurdist and, crucially, not as funny.
A rare case of an actor whose real name fits the role even better, Dean Imperial plays Ray, an old-school denizen of New York – complete with wifebeater and tinted shades – forced to seek out lucrative new work in order to put his brother Jamie (Babe Howard) into a clinic to receive treatment for a weird fatigue syndrome called Omnia. Despite being a technophobe who shuns the quantum computing revolution sweeping the world, he accepts work as a contractor laying “quantum cable” in remote areas for comms giant CABLR. Signing on to the app that assigns him routes, grinning and bearing the patronising tech-empowerment speak (“Challenge your status quo!”), Ray starts getting dirty looks from his co-workers when he reveals the username that has been assigned to him: Lapsis Beeftech.
Director Noah Hutton (who has a documentary background but makes his full-length fiction debut here) makes the main play an almost dadaist joke. Dictated partly by the budget, no doubt, it is that this 21st-century hi-tech revolution looks so lo-fi: the contractors literally unspool cable in the wilderness, re-supplied by drops from drones. Even the spindly legged robots who CABLR force them to compete with look like something you might have bought in the 1990s Argos catalogue. It’s more eccentric than funny, though, and the limited plausibility eventually blunts the edge of the social satire Hutton is aiming at. Instead, during a middle section that consists of little more than Ray trudging down forest paths, the director leans too much on polemical rants about exploitation from his co-workers.
The fuzzy premise picks up momentum in the last third, as, thanks to activist colleague Anna (Madeline Wise), more is revealed about the history of Ray’s controversial avatar. Lapsis is admirably fired-up film-making, and certainly original, but – like many revolutions – gets bogged down as it fusses over the details.
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