“The Beta Test” is both a slick satire and a confusing and muddled thriller. Writer/director/actor Jim Cummings (“Thunder Road,” “The Wolf of Snow Hollow”) plays the lead, Jordan, and he makes Christian Bale’s slick Patrick Bateman of “American Psycho” seem chill. In a film that has great snarky dialogue, this line describing Jordan Hines stood out: “I’m someone who just cannot give a shit.”
Jordan and best buddy P.J. (co-star and co-director P.J. McCabe) portray Hollywood agents, and that says it all. Insincere. Phoney. Self-serving. Dishonest. All apply. The two do a great job laying out their concerns about a time in Hollywood when agents may be a dying breed and the career template is shifting under their feet like the San Andreas Fault. (“You are a dying social network, and everyone can’t wait for it to fall apart.”)
Lots of references to the WGA (Writers Guild Association), which has been locked in a contentious series of negotiations and lawsuits regarding how agents give writers the short end of the stick, so to speak, when representing conflicting parties for studio “packages.” The recent strike that was averted may be a win for Hollywood writers. It is worth noting that 7,000w WGA members fired their agents in a show of support for their legal side’s negotiating efforts. This is obviously something that Jim Cummings and P.J. McCabe know well, and I looked forward to what was to have been the in-person appearance of J.P. at the Chicago International Film Festival, but we got a piece of film and an apology for his absence, so no questions about that plot thread. Will the average movie fan know or care about “packaging” and the WGA?
The opening scene of a gratuitously violent murder gets our attention, but is only tangentially related to the rest of the plot.
Jordan Hine (Jim Cummings) is about to be married to Caroline (Virginia Newcomb), whose only task in life seems to be to plan her upcoming wedding. The fact that the two real-life buddies (P.J. McCabe and Jim Cummings), dreamed up this slick confection without much concern for getting a more realistic woman’s point-of-view is illustrated by Caroline’s part. (Made me glad that Daniel Craig insisted they bring Phoebe Waller-Bridge in to help write “No Time to Die.”)
Jordan receives a mysterious purple envelope with an invitation to a no-strings-attached last sexual fling in a fancy downtown hotel. Given his moral failings, he gives in to temptation.
Later, there will be hell to pay for this act of infidelity. And it seems that he’s not the only one.
The plot begins to become unwieldy and to unravel, as sex, blackmail, algorithms, and the Internet become increasingly involved.
Is all this clear? No? You can watch it for yourself soon to enjoy the witty banter at the outset and the clever performance of Jim Cummings as the protagonist.
“The Beta Test” opens November 5th.