King Of Kong

Bootsy Holler/Picturehouse

Review in a Hurry:  The perfect antidote to all those high-minded documentaries, this story of two Donkey Kong players is the best underdog story in years. Who will attain the highest score? Why should you care? Because it's funny and downright moving, that's why.

The Bigger Picture:  Back before the videogame industry was a cash-minting behemoth nearly the size of Hollywood, the only real competition was found at your local arcade. And no one was better at the old-school quarter busters than Billy Mitchell. At 17, he was a media darling with his mullet hair and records for the best high scores in not one, not two, but three '80s classics: Pac-Man, Centipede and Donkey Kong.

More than two decades later, Billy still has the records of a champion and, more important, the mullet. Enter Steve Wiebe, a quiet, likable guy with a wife and two kids who enters the gaming arena from his garage—after losing his job and pouring himself into the Donkey Kong machine next to the minivan.

What follows is director Seth Gordon's hilarious documentary about the journey to crown the ultimate Donkey Kong champion in the Guinness Book of World Records, and it's as addictive as Tetris and as gut-wrenching as Mortal Kombat. We're viewing a world that most have forgotten, but its inhabitants see it as being just as vital as, say, boxing and baseball.

Wisely, Gordon shows how this story of two middle-aged nerds is really about the need for one group to keep its standards, and how a new guy can make a lot of folks very nervous. Everyone in the film is exactly as socially awkward as you'd expect. These guys make the geeks in Superbad and Knocked Up seem, uh, cool. Really cool.

Case in point: Steve Wiebe can battle barrels, flames and springs, but all that hand-eye coordination doesn't help him deflect his children's demands. One of the funniest scenes is Steve's millionth high-score videotape submission. He can conquer Kong, but in the background his son can be heard complaining, "Stop playing Donkey Kong!" Steve trudges on, saying, "Daddy will change your diaper after." Does Mario himself have that kind of dedication?

The 180—a Second Opinion:  Did we mention this is a full-length documentary about grown men competing to be Donkey Kong champions?

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