In “Thunder Road,” Jim Cummings’s 2018 feature based on his short film of the same name, he used long takes to usher the audience through tragicomic vignettes in real time. Not so in “The Beta Test.” Here, Cummings — who wrote and directed the movie alongside PJ McCabe (they also both star in it) — experiments with a collage effect, marrying splintered images with a bombastic central performance to unspool an unruly, and sometimes muddy, satire of Hollywood gluttony.
Cummings plays Jordan, a swaggering talent agent who screams phony. Engaged to the good-natured Caroline (Virginia Newcomb) and boasting career success beside his business partner PJ (McCabe), Jordan privately suffers work stress, addiction and, perhaps direst of all, the tantalizing siren song of off-limits women. Like a Jim Carrey character tottering between straight man and head case, Jordan strives to bottle up his loony fervor. Once he accepts a summons to engage in an anonymous sex act, however, Jordan spirals into paranoia.
As tension builds, certain scenes gesture at a thrilling rabbit hole of contemporary power dynamics. But taken as a whole, the movie suffers from a lack of flow; its jerkiness is such that, much of the time, it’s unclear what Cummings intends to satirize — though oblique references to the #MeToo movement lend a clue. Tales of angsty alpha males who see the light are a cinematic sacred cow, yet lacking in clarity of vision or a cohesive world, “The Beta Test” comes out looking as confused as its antihero.