Review: ‘The Beta Test,’ starring Jim Cummings, PJ McCabe and Virginia Newcomb

December 26, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jim Cummings and Virginia Newcomb in “The Beta Test” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“The Beta Test”

Directed by Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe 

Some language in Swedish with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Los Angeles area, the dark comedy/drama “The Beta Test” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Asians and African Americans) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A hard-driving Hollywood talent agent tries to find out who wants revenge on him after he was lured into a one-night stand where he cheated on his fiancée. 

Culture Audience: “The Beta Test” will appeal primarily to people who think that it’s entertaining to watch a relentlessly obnoxious main character in an easy-to-solve mystery.

PJ McCabe, Jacqueline Doke and Jim Cummings in “The Beta Test” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“The Beta Test” is a one-note satire that’s filled with misogyny and has a mystery that’s so easy to solve, it insults viewers’ intelligence. Jim Cummings and PJ McCabe co-wrote and co-directed this shrill ode to toxic masculinity, as if they think it’s somehow automatically artistic to make a movie where almost everyone is selfish, idiotic or annoying in ridiculous ways. The problem is that the story is so weak and repetitive, the movie stomps along tediously until the “plot twist” (which isn’t much of a surprise) is finally revealed to underwhelming results.

Cummings stars in “The Beta Test” as Jordan Hines, a hotshot Hollywood talent agent who finds himself trying to cover up the fact that he cheated on his fiancée Caroline Gaines (played by Virginia Newcomb) when he had a blindfolded one-night stand with an anonymous stranger in a hotel room less than two months before his wedding. (Jordan and his sex partner both wore eye masks during their encounter.) After Jordan and Caroline get married, whoever knows about his infidelity tries to anonymously threaten Jordan until he feels that his life is in danger.

The fling happened under unusual circumstances because Jordan was propositioned to have this fling by getting an anonymous mailed invitation. The invitation said that an attractive “admirer,” who has never met Jordan, wanted to have a one-time, “no strings attached” sexual encounter with him. The invitation also said that the hotel room was already paid for in advance. The time and date for the tryst have also been pre-arranged.

Everything about this invitation screams “setup,” but Jordan takes the bait anyway, like a fool. The invitation was engraved and in a distinctive purple envelope, so the movie wastes a lot of time showing Jordan being an amateur detective trying to find out where the invitation was printed and other clues to the sender’s identity, after he starts to get anonymous threats that his fling will be exposed. Jordan becomes so consumed with finding out who sent the original invitation and these threats, he becomes paranoid and starts verbally lashing out at people.

Jordan is yet another loud-mouthed, crude and abrasive character that seems to be Cummings’ specialty whenever he writes, directs and stars in a movie. (Cummings did a similar schtick in his 2020 horror film “The Wolf of Snow Hollow,” but at least that movie had better characters overall and a mystery that wasn’t as easy to figure out as the mystery in “The Beta Test.”) It seems like Cummings watched a lot of HBO’s “Entourage” episodes and decided to rip off the hostile and rude Ari Gold agent character in “Entourage” (for which won Jeremy Piven several awards, including three Emmys) and do a less-entertaining version of Ari Gold in “The Beta Test.”

Ari Gold wasn’t the main character in “Entourage.” Unfortunately, Jordan Hines is the main character in “The Beta Test.” There’s a very dull subplot to “The Beta Test” where Jordan and his business partner PJ Pruitt (played by McCabe) are desperate to boost their business by signing a wealthy, middle-aged investor named Raymond Lee (played by Wilky Lau), who’s playing hard-to-get.

One of the problems for Jordan and PJ in getting this sought-after potential investor is that Raymond takes an instant dislike to Jordan. At a business party, Jordan tries to charm and schmooze his way into Raymond’s conversation. But Raymond coldly dismisses Jordan by telling him: “We don’t need agents pretending to be producers. You are a dying social network, and everyone can’t wait to see you fall apart.”

“The Beta Test” seems to poke fun at the type of culture where men in positions of power abuse their power and cheat on their love partners with willing or not-so-willing “admirers,” who think they’ll get career advancement or some other perks from these sexual encounters. At the same business party, Jordan tries to ingratiate himself to Raymond by downplaying the aggressive and abusive reputation of Hollywood agents. “We’re not the angry bulldogs ‘Entourage’ makes us out to be,” Jordan says to Raymond. “A lot of that industry aspect left with Harvey [Weinstein].”

On the surface, “The Beta Test” is a movie that seems to be supportive of the #MeToo movement. But as the movie goes on, there’s a noticeable and gleeful delight in showing Jordan’s increasingly unhinged misogyny and boorishness. For example, Jordan often goes on verbal tirades against his administrative assistant Jaclyn (played by Jacqueline Doke), whom he hallucinates is asking him inappropriate questions about his sex life. He also angrily confronts a woman (played by Olivia Grace Applegate), whom he’s sure was his blindfolded sex partner in the hotel.

Eventually, viewers find out that Jordan wasn’t the only person to receive a mysterious invitation to cheat on a loved one in an anonymous, blindfolded sexual encounter. The other people also received their invitation in the same type of purple envelope. Other people in the Los Angeles area who accepted the invitation have met a gruesome fate, including a Swedish woman shown in the movie’s opening scene. “The Beta Test” sets everything up to make viewers wonder if Jordan will meet the same fate.

All of it is just filmmaking posturing that attempts to cover up a poorly conceived mystery. If you think about who would have a motive to get revenge on a cheating lover, it’s not hard to figure out who would be involved in setting up Jordan. And this movie is hardly a “thriller,” since there’s not much thrill or suspense in watching Jordan’s dumb outbursts and bullying. The end of the movie leaves no doubt that although “The Beta Test” is pretending to skewer a sleaze such as Jordan, who disrespects and degrades women, the filmmakers really love that Jordan says and does what he wants—so much so, they let him off the hook for being so awful.

IFC Films released “The Beta Test” in select U.S. cinemas, digital and VOD on November 5, 2021.

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