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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'The Beta Test' Review: Jim Cummings' Sleazy Hollywood Agent Gets In Big Trouble

Jim Cummings doing calming down gestures
IFC Films

Look away, look away all you Hollywood agents, lawyers and studio higher-ups because this movie might wreck the mirror you do your self-reflecting on. Well, maybe not because the industry is now much better than five years ago, correct? The Beta Test hails from the minds of Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe who both are directors, writers and actors in the movie while the former also handled editing duties. Cummings' character Jordan Hines is a Hollywood agent, specialising in package deals, who gets a mysterious purple letter inviting him for an anonymous sexual encounter at a hotel, an offer he decides to take up on despite his engagement to Caroline (Virginia Newcomb). After he receives no more letters, he begins to look for the data footprint of the letter with his friend and colleague PJ (McCabe) to know who set it all up and what he has got himself involved in.

McCabe and Cummings take that offbeat premise and they run quite far with it as the satire runs deep in the first half of the film, taking some subtle and not-so-subtle shots at Hollywood personnel with smiles and words fuelled by gallons of Colgate, as well as the overall landscape of these offices that have the megalomaniacs running wild. There is also some commentary about masculinity, power structures and also slightly less developed ideas about data privacy and social media there too. Even when themes are thrown at you suddenly, Cummings' leading man performance - that doesn't stray away from his 'Thunder Road' and 'The Wolf Of Snow Hollow' turns all that much - keeps things moving and vibrant enough on the screen and even his already great comedic style is improving slowly but surely.

Since the concepts and performances are doing well in their weight class, it might be a bit disappointing to discover some inconsistency as far as visual presentation and how the story eventually resolves; actors have to do some compensation because frames aren't very strong as production design by Charlie Textor isn't offering enough contrast or style in either backgrounds or foregrounds. Sure, in this case it might be a budget issue but there is still a glaring disconnect between the 2.35:1 aspect ratio and visual storytelling, so much so that it's hard to understand why not bring characters ''closer'' instead of placing them looking like they're lost.

Budget may also come into play with the film's ending which feels like it was intended to be more bombastic because of the premise, while now it just felt safe and somewhat perplexing just to serve a juicy monologue for Cummings' Jordan. That's a bummer because his performance is where it needs to be, as is the closure for Jordan's fragile personality.

Smileys: Premise, Jim Cummings

Frowneys: Production design

So, let's keep the conversation going? Cool, that's exciting.


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