It takes considerable comic gifts to make a loathsome, pathetic character so mesmerizing that you can withstand, even garner some sick enjoyment, from watching him dig himself into a hole for 90-plus minutes. Jim Cummings, the star, editor, producer, co-writer and co-director of "The Beta Test,” has those gifts.
Jordan (Jim Cummings), a pitiless, manipulative Hollywood agent, is ensnared in a conspiracy in the months leading up to his wedding after receiving a mysterious letter for an anonymous, no-strings-attached sexual encounter. His troubles start when he accepts the engraved invitation to cheat and is thrusted into a sinister world of lying, infidelity and digital data.
Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe’s “The Beta Test” is a frantic, nervous breakdown of a film-industry satire filled to the brim with Hollywood murder, a nationwide sex conspiracy, and touches on everything from Harvey Weinstein to the Writers Guild of America’s fight against packaging fees along the way. While the film may feel chaotic as it runs along at a breakneck pace, it is both necessary with the amount of themes Cummings wants to break down in a short 90 minutes and fitting for his absolutely manic protagonist. He creates a funny, tense, and slightly unnerving world in his both realistic and satirical representation of Hollywood. The plot is convoluted and easy to get lost in, but rewards viewers for their patience and attention to detail.
I think the reason I love Jim Cummings’ films so much is largely due to his ability to translate a really specific, chaotic, internal feeling onto the screen in a perfectly unsettling way. With “Thunder Road,” it was uncertainty and depression, with “The Wolf of Snow Hollow,” it’s rage and masculinity, and with “The Beta Test'' (possibly his finest film to-date), it's facade and paranoia.
While “The Beta Test” is a collaborative effort between Cummings and his fellow friend and colleague, PJ McCabe, it is undoubtedly a Cummings film at its cynical core. With only three feature-length narrative films under his prolific belt, he has crafted a distinct style that I have grown quite fond of. The script is filled to the brim with his trademark witty, intelligent dialogue that keeps you on your feet. Jordan’s frantic persona, incapable of one honest declaration, matches the film’s fast-paced visual rhythm. It helps, of course, that Cummings writes the very dialogue his character deploys like a verbal arsenal of intriguing awkwardness. You simply cannot take your eyes off of him.
It’s only a matter of time before Jim Cummings inevitably blows up and is recognized by the masses and given a large budget for him to play around with. What he is able to accomplish with such microscopic budgets is staggering. Never would you be able to guess that this film was made for a measly $250,000. Everything from the sets, costumes, frenetic editing and gorgeous cinematography is so meticulously well crafted and executed, all thanks to the brilliant vision of Cummings who has clearly mastered the art of filmmaking. He has the makings of being one of the greats and I so desperately want to see him garner the mainstream recognition and acclaim that he so clearly deserves.
“The Beta Test” is a sharp and outrageous piece of social commentary absolutely scathing in its critique of Hollywood, the internet, and toxic masculinity. Jim Cummings’ style is already so distinct, yet he keeps finding new and hilarious ways to surprise us. Gripping, fast paced and extremely entertaining to watch, “The Beta Test” is the year's funniest film, and one of my personal favorites. An enthusiastic 8/10.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of The Torch.