Cinematic Releases: Beta Test - Reviewed

Beta Test is out in theaters on July 22nd. We have an early review.

Imagine going through your daily life. You wake up, eat breakfast, go to work, have lunch, work some more, and go home.  You watch the same bland television shows over and over looking for meaning. Over and over again this happens.  It feels hollow and not real. You don’t feel like you are in control of your destiny. It feels like somebody else has taken control of your life and you don’t know what to do about it.   It feels like your life is a game. That feeling is the subject matter and plot of the film Beta Test.

Beta Test is the action packed story of championship gamer Max Troy (Larenz Tate). Max is a twenty something living in Seattle who lives his life electronically and never leaves the house (he reminds me a little too much of myself). Max is one of the first people to play test a brand new video game for a company known as Sentinel.  The lines between reality and the video game start to blur when events in the game start happening in the real world.  It is up to Max and the protagonist of the game and ex-Sentinel employee, Orson Creed (Manu Bennet) to unravel the potentially deadily conspiracy before the game's sinister plot overwhelms the city and hurts the people they love. Corporate conspiracy, technology, and action all collide together to make a film that makes us think about the games we play and how real life intersects with these.

That's right. I never age. Deal with it. 

The performances in this film are solid which is what you need for an action film like this. Not only does Manu Bennet look like a video game character, he does a good job with the action required by a plot like this. Bennet is born to be an action star and does a great job kicking ass and taking names. He is a lot of fun to watch on screen and manages to bring some depth to his character. Larenz Tate does a good job playing a character that is relatable to the audience. Max is just some dude who is brought into the middle of all of this crazy conspiracy action and he does a good job of portraying what that would realistically be like for a human being. The villains in this movie are good enough for you to want to root for Orson and Max to defeat and that is all they need to be. They are perfectly serviceable.

In style, Beta Test is an interesting film. On the surface, it’s plot sounds like that of the films The Matrix or Gamer. While this somewhat true, I think there is a better comparison in feel and style for this film. This film feels and sounds like a throwback to the science fiction based action films of the 80’s and 90’s. My mind kept going to the films of action auteur Paul Verhoeven, specifically Robocop and Total Recall with how it combined the media and the gritty violence of the world those films were set in. The corporate conspiracy based action films centered around two characters who have managed to get themselves involved into something that is bigger than either of them and has to find a way to stop them.  It opens with a gritty montage opening credits of a world falling apart with a pulsating synth score playing behind it.  This score recurs through out the movie and does a good job of adding to the style and tone of this movie. As a viewer, I appreciated returning to the style of action movie that we don’t see a lot of anymore.  I also appreciated the way they would cutback to what was happening from the perspective of the video game and the real world. It added to the realism and feel of the game that we see what it looks like to Max.

My sword is bigger than your sword. 

My biggest problem with this film is that it doesn’t have the bite of the film’s the director appears to be going for. The message becomes lost in the action and plot development towards the second half of the film. It becomes so focused on action that it loses track of what could be a potentially interesting message about the blurring of reality and video game violence. It’s possible to do both folks and it’s a shame because with more money and a more experienced director, this could be a real action classic. It does show a lot of potential for this director. He knows how to frame action scenes and how to use creative editing and acting to improve his films. I hope that this director continues to make more films like this and hopefully will grow as a director and make a more thematical coherent movie. Overall, I really enjoyed this film but I think that with a little more edge and bite, this could be something really special. 

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Liam S. O'Connor