‘The Beta Test’ Review – The Hollywood Reporter
Weaving gentle Hollywood satire and concern of Large Information right into a parable of erotic temptation, Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe’s The Beta Take a look at watches as a mysterious one-night stand threatens to destroy a younger agent’s life. Enjoying the agent in query, Cummings works the identical muscle groups that attracted consideration within the competition darling Thunder Street and its follow-up, The Wolf of Snow Hole: Exploring the forms of unstable awkwardness and desperation, he performs a well known sort (the showbiz ladder-climber who’s nothing however a smile) whereas making the character not like any we’ve seen.
Cummings is Jordan Hines, a hungry younger agent who acts as if he’s an inch away from signing each potential shopper who has ever turned him down. He’s engaged to Caroline (Virginia Newcomb), who for some purpose accepts his transparently faux positivity, however the impending marriage appears to be like like only one extra stage in Jordan’s try to seem like a hit. When he receives a purple envelope holding an nameless invitation to a one-time “no strings” sexual encounter, he barely even pauses to query the sender’s motives.
The Beta Take a look at
The Backside Line
Cummings’ signature awkward vitality animates a Hollywood satire.
Whereas he puzzles over the thriller letter and follows its directions, we glimpse the lives of others who’ve obtained comparable letters and acted on them. Suffice to say there’s a small epidemic of home violence in Los Angeles, with few clues to the sources of battle.
Jordan doesn’t know that, however nonetheless, after consummating his thriller date (each events are blindfolded all through the rendezvous), he turns into consumed with fear. In a string of scenes scripted to point out what Cummings does finest, we watch Jordan try to lie his method to the reality: He sidles as much as individuals who would possibly assist him deduce who despatched the initiation, tries to be easy whereas he questions them, then rapidly loses his cool as issues escalate. Amusingly, the less-powerful aren’t all the time impressed by his efforts — take the lodge desk clerk who clearly has handled a Hollywood flake or two — however nonetheless, this detective mission strikes ahead, towards its stunning finish.
In the meantime, we glimpse how Jordan’s business is confronting its personal con-man disaster. With pal PJ (performed by McCabe), Jordan works at a expertise company with a three-initial title (not one you’re considering of, although he likes to suggest that’s the case). It appears that evidently most of their conferences today revolve round outsiders’ makes an attempt to stop them from packaging expertise to extend their income; brokers huddle as much as solidify future enterprise methods and complain in regards to the Writers Guild. (The primary title card of the tip credit, during which Cummings and McCabe each have “W.G.A.” after their names, seems like a rimshot.)
One large fish they’re making an attempt to land tells Jordan, “You’re a dying social community,” and whereas rumors of expertise companies’ demise could also be very untimely, the precarity of Jordan’s way of life fuels a lot of the drama. And he’s continuously conscious that, “on this local weather,” his impulse to lash out at those that threaten that way of life will get him in much more bother.
When Jordan confesses what he’s executed to PJ, the latter begins a calmer marketing campaign to hint the purple envelopes to their origin. Right here and later, the film’s imagining of enterprise plans constructed on the large harvesting of non-public information is barely half-convincing. However that’s no large impediment to the story it tells, during which the conspiracy that will get Jordan in bother issues a lot lower than how he reacts to his unhealthy selections. Particular person scenes showcasing this habits begin to really feel acquainted because the movie progresses — failed slyness, then aggression, then apologies and extra lies — and Cummings’ admirers could begin to fear that he wants to seek out one other gear as a performer as a way to stay viable as a lead actor, even in his personal movies.
However Beta Take a look at, like Wolf earlier than it, not less than finds the hyphenate refusing to inform the identical story again and again. That places him one step forward of the character he performs right here — an inhabitant of a world the place a person can maintain a straight face whereas proposing to “reboot Caddyshack, however with canines.”