Some folks refuse to believe that Seth Gordon’s film about two men vying for the title of World’s Greatest Donkey Kong Player could be a true story. It’s too perfect: the arrogant mullet pitted against the sad dad in a contest adjudicated by self-appointed refs who look like they woke up in a car. No
way could anyone swagger like Billy Mitchell, who talks about himself in the third person while wearing the gaming crown on a head of hair that screams, “Party in the back, bitches!” No
way Steve Wiebe really told his crying kid to waitaminute, waitaminute while attempting to ascend Mount Dorkus. But, yeah, it’s all true—every magical, exhilarating, infuriating, dumbfounding, jaw-dropping second of Gordon’s miniature masterpiece. Ostensibly about Mitchell, who began his reign as Donkey Kong
world champ in 1982, King of Kong is as much about the perils of hubris and the price of heartbreak; like the trailer says, it’s about a loser who wants to be a winner and a winner “who refuses to lose” and comes off looking like an ass. Mitchell’s the longtime champ, and Wiebe’s the longtime chump—a guy who’s failed at everything, save for his marriage and his Donkey Kong
mastery, which Mitchell and his cronies fail to recognize—despite all the evidence—when Wiebe breaks Mitchell’s record. How Mitchell screws Wiebe, and to what level he’s willing to stoop—that’s at the heart of
The King of Kong, which would play like dark comedy were there not such honest-to-God cruelty at its core.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 7, 2007