Movie Review: Working out the bugs with BETA TEST

There seems to be an unwritten rule, or some sort of tradition, surrounding the treatment of video games when it comes to their portrayal onscreen.  Invariably, filmmakers get everything wrong, and anyone with even a basic knowledge of gaming is left either nonplussed, giggling to themselves about the inaccuracies, or flat-out facepalming.  BETA TEST - with all its good intentions - adheres to the tradition of glaring inaccuracy, but that's not necessarily a deal breaker. 

The film opens as Kincaid (Linden Ashby) - the owner of a video game mega-corporation - send armed thugs into the home of programmer Orson Creed (Manu Bennett) to kidnap his wife, and implant a neural microchip into the base of his skull.  The chip allows the unwitting beta tester Max (Larenz Tate) to control Creed's body remotely via a video game console, and as the story unfolds, the two must work together to expose Kincaid's evil ambitions and rescue Max's wife from his grasp. 

Manu Bennett - best known for his gigantic, floppy penis-brandishing role in the Starz TV series "Spartacus" - gives a fun turn here as the most ass-kicking computer programmer ever.  His Terminator-esque performance is reminiscent of the 80's action hero greats, albeit not quite as charismatic.  It's also nice to see Linden Ashby make an appearance in what I'd consider to be an act of eye-winking meta-casting.  I'm not entirely sure he's had a career since 1995's video game adaptation cheese-fest MORTAL KOMBAT, but he's here as an egotistical, villainous gaming tycoon who likes to listen to classical music as he philosophizes and quotes Winston Churchill. 

The CGI representation of the central "game" inside the film is a well-executed piece of visual design.  It looks authentically like a real video game for the most part, however, the way Max is able to manipulate Creed - an actual human being - using a video game controller with any measure of accuracy will have gamers scratching their head so hard they'll hit skull.  And when he starts hitting buttons to "talk"?  All plausibility of the concept goes right out the window. But these are the grievances of a gamer, and may not bother the general audience. 

Speaking of authenticity, the film was shot on location in Seattle, which lends its look some added appeal that many other lower-budgeted films tend to lack.  The fight choreography is particularly impressive, with the film's centertpiece being a long take fight scene that seemingly takes its cue from John Carpenter's THEY LIVE.  Like that film, BETA TEST has a similar willingness to poke fun at itself, and is a love-letter to 80's action, but with a modern technological twist. 

There's a little extra going on under the surface, making a semblance of comment on the disconnect between violence and atrocity that we see on the screen, and our involvement as viewers or players, but it never really delivers on its promise to examine it in any depth. Although, that's not what BETA TEST is about.  This is a B-movie in classic style, and whether that's a problem for you depends on your tolerance for films with this kind of tone.  It's eager to please its audience rather than adhering to a strictly realistic treatment of a concept that could have easily been approached from a hard sci-fi angle.  It's a fun throwback, nothing more, and it's admirable for that very reason.

NonSequitur

BETA TEST is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and On Demand.