The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters movie poster
MPAA rating: PG-13
Genre: Documentary
"Donkey Kong" fanatics face off in an attempt to score the video game's all-time high score.
Starring: Seth Gordon, Steve Wiebe, Walter Day
Director: Billy Mitchell
Running time: 1:19
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Editorial Review

Is there anything more tiresome than watching people play video games? Seth Gordon's documentary "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters" answers that question with a decisive yes: watching a movie about people playing video games.

Following the all-too-familiar formula of the charming 2002 documentary "Spellbound," Gordon's film chronicles the efforts of die-hard players of the classic video game Donkey Kong as they vie for the world record score. True to the structure that has become increasingly hackneyed with the glut of competition docs ("Mad Hot Ballroom," "Wordplay"), "The King of Kong" features the cocky champion who's defending his title, the genial but fatally flawed underdog and the ambitious upstart.

There's also a loathsome eminence grise who calls himself "Mr. Awesome" and introduces a whiff of sleaze and corruption into the hermetic culture of grown men who spend nearly every waking hour behind a joystick. (If Ben Stiller and Will Ferrell aren't engaged in a bidding war over the life rights of reigning champ Billy Mitchell, they should be.) Low-fi production values and endless talking heads don't help make an already un-engaging world any more compelling.

It's a depressing little kingdom, even when Gordon tries desperately to goose the drama with the requisite "Eye of the Tiger" riffs and some junior high-level palace intrigue. "The King of Kong" suggests that the old saw about academia stands true for the insular world of video games: The competition is so vicious because the stakes are so low.

-- Ann Hornaday (August 24, 2007)

Contains a brief sexual reference.