The Movie Binge

The King of Kong


[Ed. note: Consider this the unintentional second quirk review in a short series, following Erik's Rocket Science review from yesterday morning.]

Welcome to the saturation phase of quirky documentaries. The ouvre previously covered spelling bees, Scrabble, crossworld puzzles, ballroom dancing and countless other topics, but the onslaught has just begun. The latest victim is video games, and it's not even an original subject &mdash High Score, like King of Kong, is also about two men competing for the best score in a classic arcade game (Missile Command is the playground in that case). Having watched both films, and many other quirky documentaries, I think I've got a handle on why King of Kong succeeds so gloriously.

In essence, all of these films are real life Christopher Guest stories, except they don't have the luxury of creating their own characters. For Kong, the cast of characters are better than the fruits of any writer's mind. Steve Wiebe is a good American boy who poured his efforts in Donkey Kong after losing his job at Boeing. He has a history of coming up short — Steve was a gifted athlete who threw out his arm — and has a sweet disposition that only Beelzebub himself could ignore. Billy Mitchell has held the Donkey Kong world record, and records for several other games, for the last 25 years and is a cocky son-of-a-bitch. He has a mane of black hair, a "hot" wife, a hot sauce business and is never, never, ever wrong. Even better, he has a protegé and a posse (his lawyer friend and the folks who run Twin Galaxies, classic arcade record keepers). His protegé Brian Kuh is basically Billy's man servent, and worse than any band groupie, as he hilariously spies on Wiebe and secrets away to give Billy updates, all the while growing frustrated that Wiebe got to the kill screen first. What's amazing is that this is just a slight peak into their world are there are still three more people who are equally hilarious.

While this crew is entertaining enough on its own, the dramatic story arc makes King of Kong a real winner. Wiebe comes from nowhere to break Billy's long-standing record, showing his wife that he's not a worthless good-for-nothin', only to have it taken away because Billy's long-time nemesis provided Wiebe with a new motherboard (which is obviously a no-no). Then, when Wiebe breaks the record in front of the Twin Galaxies nerd crew, Brian the underling proudly produces a tape of Billy topping Steve's 10 minute old score. Best of all is that Billy refuses to be in the same room as Steve. Steve is the sweetest man in the world but Billy and his crew treats him like a radical insurgent.

Director Steve Gordon must have shit himself when he started getting everyone on tape, because all he had to do was not mess it up. Steve, you sure as hell did not mess this up. In between the hilarious banter there's great information on the history of competitive gaming, which fills in holes for people less nerdy than myself. I'm sure Billy isn't quite as evil as he's portrayed, but the good vs. bad shtick was well-played and I wouldn't have had it any other way. Most impressively, he only belittled his subjects when they were worthy of it and never looked down on the sport.

Even the least nerdy and most jaded corners of my brain ached with delight throughout the film. If you do have any nerd up in that noggin', you owe it to yourself to feed the beast. This film is not to be missed.


Billy Mitchell is the ideal video game villain, nappy facial hair and everything

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