Ah, the world of action movies. For all the classic films that have come out of this genre, it is still one of the easiest areas in the movie business to make a quick buck. Fans love action and lots of it, so throw out a fading star, a half assed effort and little to no interest in an actual story and chances are you’ll make a small profit and there will be smiles all around. This is why I am thankful for movies like Beta Test, that try hard to be something different in a genre that spends more time coasting and sitting on its ass then it does trying to expand its horizons.
We meet Max (Larenz Tate) who is a video game tester and given the job of reviewing the latest game from the video game giant, Sentinel. It doesn’t take long for Max to realize this game is unlike anything he has played before, as events in the game begin to sound eerily familiar to things happening in real time in the real world. The games protagonist Orson Creed (Manu Bennett) is actually real flesh and blood and together the two men have to join forces to stop the leader of Sentinel, Kincaid (Linden Ashby) and the deep seeded conspiracy before it’s too late.
The first thing that struck me was how the main actors in this movie actually cared about what they were doing. Tate, Bennett and Ashby all deliver their lines with great gusto and spirit, not the usual dumb ass, chest thumping bravado we are used to seeing in action movies like this. Ashby as Kincaid is very believable as the evil head of a corporation and Tate is someone you could see struggling to leave the video game world behind and trying to comprehend just what the hell is going on.
This leaves Manu Bennett, who is like the growling moral center of the movie as Orson Creed and quickly moves from a studious book worm type of character to full blown action star. This movie has the distinction of having the longest one-take action sequence in the history of film. I don’t know how they managed to pull this off but Gyeney, Bennett and company do just that and it is really something to behold.
Director Nicholas Gyeney manages to weave a great story together with some wonderfully over the top action that just made this reviewer smile. It was nice to see Gyeney not dumbing down his material to take shortcuts, instead challenging the viewer to some interesting ideas and concepts about corporations and the future of the video game industry. The pace built up nicely and the payoff was fun and satisfying, giving the audience a sense that the people behind this movie cared about what they were doing.
I also need to mention how good the film looks. There are many interesting camera shots, letting the viewer get a look at both the characters and some of the action from different angles and perspectives. Again, this goes back to the Gyeney and company daring to care and trying to find a newer and much more interesting way of viewing a movie like this.
There were a few things that didn’t work for me, one being the character of Abbie. She seemed kind of lost and out of place as the woman in distress and although I understand what she represented in the film, she just seemed awkward most of the time. Also, some of the other characters kind of fell into that ‘disposable bad guy’ category and had some very questionable dialogue to go along with the clichéd part they were playing in the movie.
However, these are minor quibbles. Overall, Beta Test was a wonderful breath of fresh air in a genre that badly needs an infusion of new ideas and intelligence that challenges the audience instead of insulting it. A fun, action filled ride from start to finish that should satisfy action fans and also leave them thinking about what exactly it is they just witnessed on screen.
Four out of five stars
- Something different in a tired genre
- Everyone involved seems really interested in being in the film and it shows
- Good look and pace to film with an action scene that is the first of its kind in film history
- Some characters seem out of place or cliched, a trap a lot of action films fall into