Movie review: 'Kong' scores a win

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 23, 2007 - 5:29 PM

"The King of Kong" is an oddly compelling story of the battle for video-game supremacy.

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'The King of Kong'

If you thought the nerd-sports documentary niche was tapped out after "Spellbound" (about the national spelling bee), "Wordplay" (about crossword fanatics) and "Word Wars" (about competitive Scrabble), think again. "King of Kong" is a stupendously entertaining nonfiction film concerning the cutthroat battle for world records on coin-operated arcade games.

I'm sure we can all remember where we were in 1982 when we heard that video gamer Billy Mitchell set a new record score of more than 800,000 points at Donkey Kong. His achievement went unrivaled until 2005, when unassuming Steve Weibe, a laid-off Boeing employee with time on his hands, topped 1 million points and videotaped his triumph for posterity.

In a classic little guy-vs.-the establishment turn of events, however, the official tribunal for video gaming records refused to recognize Weibe's breakthrough. He racked up his winning tally on his home-based game, not the one and only commission-recognized machine at a specific New Hampshire arcade. Did I mention that record holder Billy Mitchell sits on the video gamers' governing board and is a complete and total wanker?

To be sure, "King of Kong" director Seth Gordon sides with the sincere, hapless Weibe as he struggles to reassert his claim to the title. But Mitchell, a hot-sauce entrepreneur with a Chuck Norris mullet and star-spangled neckties, does himself no favors with such self-important pronouncements as, "No matter what I say, it draws controversy -- sort of like the abortion issue."

The showdown between the rivals is a classic struggle of good and evil, with Weibe outscoring Mitchell time and again, while Mitchell weasels and connives to discredit him. The quirky and original film is ultimately as uplifting as "Rocky," and a darn sight funnier.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186

  • THE KING OF KONG

    3½ out of 4 stars

    The setup: A documentary about the thrill-a-minute world of ... arcade video-game competitions?!?!

    What works: The rival gamers are oddly compelling, a real-life everyman hero vs. a hissable, unctuous villain.

    What doesn't: The production values are nothing to write home about.

    Great scene: Game sequences scored to vintage pop hits in the manner of 1980s sports underdog dramas.

    Rating: PG-13 for a brief sexual reference.

    Where: Lagoon.

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