Skip to content

THE BETA TEST (2021) review

November 16, 2021


written by: Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe
produced by: Natalie Metzger, Matt Miller and Benjamin Wiessner
directed by: Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe
rated: not rated
runtime: 93 min.
U.S. release date: November 5, 2021 (in select theatres and available for rent on Google Play, Apple TV, Vudu, Amazon Prime Video, and YouTube)


There’s a sudden and gruesome murder that occurs within the first five minutes of “The Beta Test” that found me wondering just what kind of movie I was about to view. I came to it cold, knowing only that the independent film had recently been in the lineup at the Chicago International Film Festival and it starred Jim Cummings (who also wrote and directed with his costar PJ McCabe), a multi-talent who has been one to watch since “Thunder Road” his first full-length feature was released back in 2018. Based on that opening, one might expect a horror flick, but what unfolds is a manic comedy thriller with bi-polar tendencies. While it’s one of those L.A. movies about the bizz, it’s certainly not yet another movie about movie-making and has themes and concepts that wind up being as overextended and contorted as its main character’s mental state. However, “The Beta Test” isn’t a simple breakdown of the film-industry in an online, digitally-saturated world, it’s more like a nervous breakdown of today’s Hollywood environment. It’s a reminder that a movie with a deplorable and unsympathetic lead character can be entertaining and mesmerizing, even if doesn’t always work.

Cummings plays Jordan Hines, a desperate Hollywood talent agent who has believed his own lies so long, he couldn’t tell the truth if it signed a contract right in front of his face or if it grabbed him by the crotch (which, judging by his temptations and proclivities, he would probably prefer). He’s handsome, with a smile as impeccable as his tailored suits and maintains a life he can’t afford – leasing a Tesla and dropping ten grand on a naked lady painting at a charity auction. Who’s this guy fooling? Like most fools, himself. If he’s not in a meeting alongside his colleague P.J. (P.J. McCabe), Jordan is at a party or on his phone, feigning interest in anyone near him, including his fiancé Caroline (Virginia Newcomb), who is starting to feel like she’s the only one interested in getting married. He’s more concerned with letting someone know how close he is to signing “hot clients”, while ignoring how his career is circling the drain with each failed attempt at grasping success.


Jordan’s world changes with the arrival of a curious purple envelope mailed to his home address. In it is an invitation to an anonymous “no strings” sexual encounter at a fancy nearby hotel room with a complete stranger. All he has to do is select a list of desires to pick from in order to be matched to the ideal partner who has likely received the same invite. Unsure at first, a combination of life stressors and carnal desires finds Jordan caving in and sending back the filled out card. Once he receives a key and additional instructions, there’s no turning back. It’s unclear just how loyal Jordan has been to Caroline or if this is his first night of adultery, but it certainly is the first of its kind and one that accelerates his downward spiral. After his blindfolded tryst, his paranoia increases and he becomes obsessed with who (or what) was behind the hook-up and who this woman was. One bad decision leads to more, and soon Jordan is manic, out-of-control, and engaging in criminal behavior such as impersonating a police officer and a private detective.

Just like in the last film that he wrote, directed, and starred in, “The Wolf of Snow Hollow,” Cummings doesn’t flinch at including sudden graphic violence, which is what “The Beta Test” opens with. It didn’t necessarily need such an opener, since all it had to do was introduce viewers to the purple envelope (which it does) and the potential ramifications of admitting to your lover that you partook in such an activity. Sure, this opening has our attention, but a less-is-more approach would’ve been equally affective.



The screenplay by Cummings and McCabe is wisely set in modern-day Hollywood with a post-Harvey Weinstein world following Jordan like a dark cloud wherever he goes. Always anxious and on edge, in denial of his alcoholism yet blurting out he has an ulcer to just about anyone, the nervous character is often seem erupting in abusive behavior, like the way in which he insults his assistance, Jaclyn (Jacqueline Doke), threatening her job and diminishes her capabilities. “The Beta Test” is primarily interested in following how Jordan unravels psychologically, leaning on choice vices and escaping responsibilities, while hinting at a mystery that develops during his obsessive quest. The third act leans heavily Jordan’s nervous breakdown, as he sinks deeper into deception and we get to the point where the character is beyond redemption, which is expected considering who Jordan is, but even though that’s not a surprise, there is a bit of a letdown as the film concludes as if we were never given a breather from his destructive narcissism.

While Jordan may be reprehensible and incorrigible, it’s nearly impossible to take your eyes off of what Cummings does with the role. At times, it’s straight-up nuts and cartoony (with some of the actors contorted expressions resembling the rubbery flexibility of early Jim Carrey) and sometimes it seems like the actor is literally going to pass out from his exhaustive emotional and physical output. It’s simply flat-out impressive what Cummings is capable of here, not to mention understandable disturbing. It’s possible that another director might have reined in Cummings acting, but the writing and the situations seems to warrant (possibly even require) dialing it up to eleven and hitting out a zany performance into the rafters. There may be one too many detours and themes in Cummings and McCabe’s script, but the duo nevertheless have a unnerving comprehension of online social life and insincerity amongst Hollywood business types, not to mention the age-old dangers of self-gratification.





No comments yet

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: