The Beta Test
by Hope Madden
If Eyes Wide Shut had been a brutal commentary on the film industry and Tom Cruise had been an unsympathetic, insecure, entitled white man…the point is, The Beta Test is a wild, insanely tense satire.
Co-writers/co-directors/co-stars Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe invite you into a world populated by people who miss the days before Harvey Weinstein’s ousting. The two play Jordan and PJ, respectively—Hollywood agents with no real purpose, no real value, a lot of spin, a lot of anxiety, and a chip on their collective shoulders about the stuff they can no longer get away with.
Then Jordan finds a purple invitation in his mailbox and the mystery begins.
Whether or not Jim Cummings has range as an actor is yet to be seen, but as the awkward, barely recovering alcoholic on the verge of a nervous breakdown, he is perfect. His performance here never broaches the level of vulnerable beauty he showcased in Thunder Road, and even the self-centered ineptitude of his werewolf hunting sheriff in The Wolf of Snow Hollow feels wholesome when compared to Jordan.
But somehow Cummings creates moments where you almost root for this guy. It’s a deceptively layered performance at the center of a biting piece of social commentary.
Cummings is not alone. McCabe works well as Jordan’s far more likable (thought probably no more genuine) bestie/worstie. Jacqueline Doke, playing an office assistant who most closely resembles a normal human, injects scenes with a grounding perspective that only makes Cummings’s anxious antics funnier.
Virginia Newcomb —so spot-on as the disbelieving spouse in 2019’s underseen treasure The Death of Dick Long — is once again excellent in the role of a partner who just cannot believe the behavior of the man she loves. Her role is a bit underwritten, unfortunately, but she and Cummings play off each other well.
Outrage roils beneath the surface of this film so loudly that it almost drowns out the actual plot, which is fine. The mystery itself, convoluted as it is, mainly allows Cummings and McCabe opportunities for inspired, seethingly comical hijinks.