Beta Test (2016)

I suppose it is a tribute to the makers of this film that somehow one fails to take in just how absurd the basic premise is until the film is over.

Okay, we’ve got Sentinel,  your hugely successful videogame company; Kincaid, your stock issue evil genius CEO trying to make the world a better place by murdering everyone in his way; your typical, brutal conflict between Kincaid and one of his top researchers, Orson Creed; and your complex evil genius-y plan to destroy Creed.

This involves putting a chip in his neck that controls him, and having Sentinel’s “secret weapon”, beta tester Max Troy, play what he’s told is their latest game and carry out a series of tasks intended to discredit Creed.  Of course, he hears on the radio that the scenario he just played has just happened in real life.

And this is the absurdity:  it isn’t enough that the bad guy and his henchmen are involved in the secret plot, we take that for granted.  Or that he kidnapped Creed’s wife (and Kincaid’s one-time girl friend) to use as leverage:  true, one more person to talk, but hey, it’s done all the time.  Or for that matter, that he seems to have blackmailed a young man into shooting up his school by threatening his mom (okay, that’s two more.  What’s two more?)

No, he decides that it’s a really brilliant idea to drag in one of his biggest corporate assets, an employee whose services are not merely unmatchable, but who is also a very public Sentinel celebrity.

Oh, and his favorite tech support girl to use for leverage.  Gotta have her.

This is just absurd.  It’s like having Michelangelo on the payroll, but using him to fake boxtops to defraud a big breakfast cereal manufacturer.  And if you argue that you’d need someone of Max’s caliber to successfully complete the tasks, well, make the tasks simpler.

To be fair, there were at least a few people in the city who weren’t dragged into Kincaid’s plan.

A few.

Maybe.

At any rate, most of this movie is breezily entertaining.  We have an interesting set-up, and the early action sequences are quite good.  The use of CGI for the “game” sequences does manage to capture the feel of the modern videogame, although I’m not sure whether they merely animated over the film or created this separately.  One of the best moments comes when Kincaid grabs a bowl of popcorn to sit down and watch the “gameplay” through Creed’s computer enhanced eyes.

However, things do fall apart a bit in the end.  After spending most of the film trying not to kill people, Max does some rather impressively awful things later on.  And then there is an endless sequence where Creed, without the superhuman boost the chip would have given him, takes on a small army of henchmen, which starts somewhere near unbelieveable and gets ever more absurd as it goes, climaxing with a boss fight with Samurai swords.

Still, as popcorn fare goes, I find this indie effort tastier – and on the whole more thoughtful – than most of the Hollywood product despite its flaws.

It is also interesting to find a film which seems to be questioning one of the great myths of our age (courtesy of Freud):  that we can sublimate our violent urges by acting them out, something which in the past would have been seen as indulging in those urges and effectively “programming” us to respond violently in real life.

And, again, it’s intriguing that the villain’s secret plan to make the world a better place by killing people is aimed at not only gun control but ultimately people control.  At least that part seems plausible.

After all, we have seen the future – and it is paranoid.

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