Writer/Director/Actor Jim Cummings is one of the more delightfully unique voices emerging in Hollywood. If you haven't seen or heard of his previous films, "Thunder Road" and "The Wolf of Snow Hollow," you're not alone, but do yourself a favor and seek them out.
In "The Beta Test" - co-written, co-directed and co-starring his real-life buddy PJ McCabe - his third independent film is his most biting...a delicious slice of entertainment and intrigue that satisfies as much as it unsettles.
Cummings plays a greasy, narcissistic Hollywood agent by the name of Jordan. He's as artificial and cocky as they come, a man who lives on a wink and a firm handshake. Jordan receives a mysterious purple envelope one day, inviting him to a sexual one-night encounter at a hotel. This sleaze-ball, he accepts, despite being just weeks away from marrying his fiancé, Caroline (Virginia Newcomb).
His late-night rendezvous ends up engulfing him, setting him on an obsessive path towards finding out just who this mystery woman was, and what's behind the purple envelope scheme. He shares the story with his business partner PJ (McCabe), who helps him investigate and follow the breadcrumbs that may lead to some answers.
An opening murder scene sets the dark tone, but "The Beta Test" is pointedly funny and hard to put in any one box. Cummings plays Jordan almost as some sort of alien, devoid of human emotion or empathy but who desperately wants to fit in. He craves power, and in his field, Harvey Weinstein (who is referenced more than once) is a blueprint of a man who made it to the top of the mountain, even if he got too close to the sun. Not exactly a positive role model.
We learn that Jordan and PJ are actually not as successful as the front they put on would suggest, but in Hollywood, perception is more important than worth. As Jordan commits multiple crimes, like impersonating an officer, he treats people the only way he knows how: With contempt and a sense of entitlement. We have no idea what Caroline sees in him but she must know that there is a man in there worth redeeming. Cummings is so eccentric in the role that you'd think he was warped in from "The Room," except that charismatic gleam in his eye tells you that much of his awkwardness is by design.
"The Beta Test" never quite delivers as a thriller, but Jordan is so strangely compelling that he carries the film. In real-life, Cummings and McCabe exist on the outskirts of the Hollywood machine, and by casting themselves as agents caught up in it all seems very meta...their unique, up-close perspectives of that machine gives them real insight into the power structure of Hollywood, making their material feel deeply authentic, even when the characters they portray are anything but.
Continue making stand-out films like "The Beta Test," and Cummings and McCabe will soon find themselves within the belly of the very beast they so successfully manage to lampoon.
Genre: Horror, Thriller.
Run Time: 1 hour 33 minutes.
Starring: Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe, Virginia Newcomb, Malin Barr, Wilky Lau, Olivia Grace Applegate, Jessie Barr.
Written and Directed by Jim Cummings & PJ McCabe ("The Wolf of Snow Hollow," "Thunder Road").
"The Beta Test" is in theaters on Friday, November 5th, 2021.
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