'The Beta Test' review: Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe's hilarious satire really bites
Courtesy of IFC Films
A scathing social satire that bites, “The Beta Test” roasts the entertainment industry with a meaty and physical lead performance from co-director/writer Jim Cummings who is cementing his status as one of the more prominent indie filmmakers after “Thunder Road” and “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” delivered. “The Beta Test” is vastly different in tone and scope compared to those previous efforts, allowing Cummings and co-writer/director PJ McCabe to break the mold and offer meta commentary on the state of Hollywood agencies, including hilarious conversations surrounding the WGA strike and the incessant need to break into the lucrative Chinese market. But there’s a twist looming within the screenplay’s foundation, one that slowly unravels around a mysterious purple envelope and a secret sexual encounter.
Cummings, in full Jim Carrey mode, plays Jordan - a semi-narcissistic Ari Gold type on the prowl for total artistic domination. During the day he struggles with an ulcer and a forthcoming marriage to Caroline (Virginia Newcomb who is great but feels underutilized) that already seems dead on arrival. Except, upon the delivery of the aforementioned purple envelope with an invitation for a no questions asked sexual rendezvous at a nearby hotel, curiosity gets the better of him. The invitation askes a variety of questions relating to kinky fetishes and all Jordan must do is show up, and his fantasies will come true.
Jordan, being the alpha dog he is, can’t resist the desire of being wanted. He enjoys the chase and locks eyes with every woman he sees on the street, in a restaurant, or while stuck in traffic wondering if this is the one who craves him so much as to send a secret invitation. This newfound confidence following the blindfolded (and steamy) exchange only lasts Jordan so long before sending the pressure cooker agent down a rabbit hole of insecurities and lustful desires. He spirals into a borderline obsession of who sent the invitation and why, hilariously trying to assert his dominance throughout the town, but nobody, including the worker at the hotel where the sexcapade took place, takes him seriously. Meanwhile, a string of domestic murders are popping up in correlation to the letters (a side plot that doesn’t always hold its weight), eventually building to a climatic meltdown where Jordan unleashes his wrath upon the industry and proclaims everyone wants to be like Harvey Weinstein.
“The Beta Test” also comments on the digital age, the dark web, and how data is sold for those willing to pay for it. In an era where Facebook is undergoing intense scrutiny for its practices, “The Beta Test” inadvertently skewers them for how looney people in Jordan’s state-of-mind have become thanks to the spreading of disinformation and their shady algoritchmic methods. It’s a balanced portrayal and Cummings rolls with the punches alongside McCabe (who is terrific in the movie playing Jordan’s calm and collected best friend) as both deliver a solid and stylish comedic thriller unafraid of showing its claws and drawing blood.
THE BETA TEST opens in select theaters and on demand/digital Friday, November 5th