J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Beta Test: Game Hard

Andrew Kincaid is like the Mike Bloomberg of gaming companies. An ardent gun control supporter, he coins the slogan: “keep guns in games.” He is also determined to keep his company’s technology out of the hands of the military. Of course, it is all for the sake of preventing obstacles to his megalomaniacal quest for power. Unfortunately, his toughest critic will literally find himself playing the villain in Kincaid latest video game. The game’s repercussions on real life will also come as a nasty shock to the first test player in Nicholas Gyeney’s Beta Test (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in New Jersey.

Max Troy has not left his house for the last two years. He obviously has issues, but also made bank testing and sometimes modifying Kincaid’s releases. The newest first-person shooter seems unusually real, because it is. Thanks to a chip implant, former Sentinel executive and all-around hardnose Orson Creed will helplessly embark on a Grand Theft Auto style crime spree, with Troy at the controls. However, Troy puts two and two together quicker than most movie characters, forcing Kincaid to dispatch a team of colorful henchmen to keep Troy playing the game at gunpoint. Unfortunately, the in-game premise—the abduction of Creed’s wife Abbie, who also happens to be Kincaid’s ex—is similarly all too true.

Gyeney and co-screenwriter Andre Kirkman are startlingly gutsy when they reveal Kincaid has forced a patsy to commit a Columbine-style school shooting to advance his agenda. However, they apparently felt the need to water-down the film’s Second Amendment implications with some clichéd rhetoric castigating Kincaid as a one percenter. It just sounds unnatural coming out of Creed’s rightwing-looking mouth.

At least Creed can fight. Creed is the first lead role in a film for Manu Bennett, best known as Crixus in Spartacus. He certainly has the physical presence and his weird growling voice is actually quite effective. Executive producer Kevon Stover, Edward Michael Scott, and Yuji Okumoto (from Karate Kid II and Awesome Asian Bad Guys) add energy and villainous verve as Kincaid’s hit squad. Linden Ashby is suitably slippery and slimy as the evil gaming tycoon, but unfortunately, Larenz Tate is rather bland and lightweight as the house-bound Troy.

In all honesty, Beta Test often looks like a B-movie in problematic ways. However, there are some impressively brutal fight scenes and it is almost hypnotically compelling to watch the bearded-up and bespectacled Bennett do his thing. Recommended as a guilty pleasure with some degree of implied support for personal liberties, Beta Test opens tomorrow (7/22) at the AMC Loews Jersey Gardens in Elizabeth.

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