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Jim Cummings in The Beta Test.Courtesy of Vortex Media

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  • The Beta Test
  • Written and directed by Jim Cummings and P.J. McCabe
  • Starring Jim Cummings, P.J. McCabe and Virginia Newcomb
  • Classification N/A; 93 minutes
  • Available digitally on-demand starting Nov. 5

Critic’s Pick

A bold, raw, bordering-on-manic mashup of Eyes Wide Shut, Ivans XTC and HBO’s Entourage, the new thriller-cum-satire The Beta Test is here to test your limits. Limits on what, exactly? Well, reams of insider Hollywood gobbledygook, bloody scenes of domestic violence, and ultra-detestable alpha male antiheroes, for starters. But for those who can tolerate, and backwardly appreciate, the toxic tricks that co-directors Jim Cummings and P.J. McCabe deploy, The Beta Test is one of the more unusual and exciting independent films of the season.

The story focuses on fast-talking Hollywood agent Jordan (Cummings), who peddles a high-energy brand of faux-sincerity that is beginning to rot his soul. In between meetings proselytizing the benefits of “packaging deals” (which agencies have increasingly come to rely upon to pad commissions) and monologues about destroying the Writers Guild of America, Jordan falls into a web of sexual deceit and industry mind-games.

Jim Cummings and Virginia Newcomb in The Beta Test.Courtesy of Vortex Media

The journey arrives in the form of a purple letter, anonymously mailed, which promises the engaged Jordan a no-strings encounter with a “secret admirer.” Arriving with a checklist of preferred fetishes and sexual positions, plus a keycard to the hotel room where the affair will take place, the invitation is like Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, but for philandering jerks.

What follows is a film both blunt and cerebral, with Jordan’s actions resulting in the expected neuroses and paranoia, but also underlining a society run by the extraction and manipulation of personal data. Cummings and McCabe (the latter popping up here as Jordan’s more mild-mannered co-worker) are interested in the constraints and expectations of monogamy, certainly, but are more eager to scratch the contemporary itch of how our private digital empires have only made us more naked than ever before.

PJ McCabe, Jacqueline Doke and Jim Cummings in the Beta Test.Courtesy of Vortex Media

The Hollywood setting seems almost incidental – which is a good thing, because the filmmakers either intentionally chose to cheaply replicate the high-powered landscape to the point of absurdity (no reputable agency would operate out of Jordan’s sparsely designed office), or they decided that the gnarly thrust of their screenplay would triumph over their production-budget shortcomings.

Midway through, Jordan furiously asks a client “how much longer do you want to keep making stuff that nobody’s seen?” It’s as wink-wink a line of dialogue as any, but, in an ideal world, it’s a question that Cummings and McCabe will never be asked again.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.

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