Movie Reviews
3:19 pm
Wed September 26, 2007

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Dollars

Not a winner

"In a world which furnishes so many employments which are useful, and so many which are amusing, it is our own fault if we ever know what ennui [boredom] is, or if we are ever driven to the miserable resource of gaming, which corrupts our dispositions, and teaches us a habit of hostility against all mankind." Thomas Jefferson

Appreciation of gaming with electronic pinball machines in fluorescent-drenched arcades and dank cellars is an acquired taste, a nerdy world of introverts and con men, dedicated to being the best at eye and hand coordination. And the apex is the game of Donkey Kong, like Pac Man an early but enduring test for only the most committed, some of whom should be committed immediately.

Seth Gordon's King of Kong is a sedentary, sometimes silly, documentary about the pinnacle of Donkey Kong, is peopled by the enigmatic, charismatic, and cagey Billy Mitchell (the reigning king of Kong) and challenger Steve Wiebe, a Seattle family man of normal proportions who doggedly pursues Mitchell's crown after he has lost his job at Boeing and has plenty of time in his basement to follow his dream. While Mitchell provides the romantic grist by wearing a helmet of dark hair, black clothes, and an attitude of mystery, Wiebe represents all the dorky slackers who ever wanted the top score, beyond the reasonable attainment of the goal.

The documentary is best at showing how non-geeky some of the gamers are and worst at creating excitement for essentially a solitary competition with little audience participation and no discernable payoff except fame among a small group of devotees. It succeeds in showing how the zealots like Wiebe can consume valuable family time in their lonely quest and how even in this humble sport a savvy player such as Mitchell can make himself a legend by just not competing.

Billy Mitchell helps define an essential ingredient of American celebrity: aloof cool. But then, he's no poseur when it comes to swinging the joystick: He's the King of Kong.