(No longer in theaters)
New Line Cinema
Aug 17, 2007
The documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters sounds like a grups’ dream—it centers on men who have never stopped trying to set records in classic arcade games like Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Q*bert, etc. I sympathize: In my twenties, I hung out at a Boston dive bar with another young film critic (let’s call him, oh, Onan Gliberperson) drinking pint after pint of Bass Ale and playing Donkey Kong well into the night. Then the game began to play me. Half asleep on my bed, I’d swear I’d just reached level seven. Anyway, Seth Gordon’s movie doesn’t get into the addiction part. The main characters are the legendary “gamer of the century” demigod Billy Mitchell and Steve Wiebe, a family man who, in 2003, loses his job at Boeing and retreats to play the Kong in his garage—where he videotapes himself blasting Mitchell’s old record to smithereens.
There’s no doubt which side director Gordon is on. Mitchell is a dark, bearded glowerer who dispatches goons to take apart Wiebe’s machine to check for improprieties. He also declares that a record isn’t valid unless the game is played in public. After Wiebe jets to New Hampshire to play the game in public—and again bests Mitchell’s record—Mitchell sends a tape of himself scoring higher. In private! It’s not just Mitchell who makes you furious; it’s also his acolytes, who are like shifty Republican operatives decrying voter fraud while fiddling with Diebold machines. You want to drop barrels on them.
The King of Kong is very entertaining (and doesn’t overstay its welcome) but it’s a little depressing to contemplate. Are there any arenas in which Americans don’t want to compete and conquer? Wiebe seems too nice a guy (with too nice a wife and kids) to waste any more time on that bloody game. He could do so many other things with his spare time—even film criticism.