Hot off the heels of his apparent success with Horrible Bosses, director Seth Gordon is already talking about a sequel* — to his previous (much more moderate) hit The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. The concept of a sequel, or a fictional remake, to the documentary is at least a three years old, but Gordon insists via The Playlist that it will totally happen this time. And he now knows how he wants to tell that story:
“There’s a few different avenues [the film can take]. I’ve done some work on ‘Modern Family’ and ‘The Office’ and have worked in this doc style, and so that inspired me to say, instead of doing a traditional narrative feature script, what if we did the remake in the doc style? What doors what that open? What opportunities? What additional story could we tell? And that’s essentially the approach we took.”
The angle is an interesting one, as the “characters” in the original play very well to specific archetypes (Billy Mitchell, the narcissist villain; Steve Wiebe, the idealist hero) who could be colorfully reanimated by actors capable of chewing scenery or staring meaningfully, respectively. But a feature length take on the story in the vein of “The Office” is just too easy. When you’ve already exploited the talking heads with real people — garnering real emotional responses in part because the audience is watching real people — then utilizing it with trained actors in a tightly scripted format saps out all the drama and humor. It cheapens the unexpected transcendence of the narrative.
Theoretically speaking, a Jason Sudeikis as Billy Mitchell and a Jason Bateman as Steve Wiebe would be effective, as the style often enables storytelling and comedic shortcuts that straight forward narratives don’t (other than the training montage). The two men’s initial computerized warfare, and their continuing adventures**, would even make good fodder for an ongoing TV series a la “Modern Family” (with fewer intersecting plot lines; instead saving those for Sweeps and Finale weeks). A network series with TV’s best sitcom writers could tell stories about these people for at least a decade. But considering the source, yet another mockumentary in either film or TV is not what one might call “inspired.” This is especially so coming from the guy who crafted such an uplifting tale with the first.
If Seth Gordon, who also made Four Christmases, wants to get the biggest bang for his buck, the mockumentary seems to be a stable, profitable gimmick, and quality material is often produced that way. But the beauty of the King of Kong was that it was real, and the guys were deeper than mere joke machines, or jokes themselves. It was an epic struggle over something not at all important, but that mattered because it mattered to Billy and Steve (and that referee guy). Making them into fictional comedy just turns the whole story into a gag, a whoopee cushion, That can be hilarious, sure, but it’s not that satisfying when confronted with a superior reality, made superior because it is actual reality.
In 2010 alone, the title of record holder for most number of points scored in the Donkey Kong arcade game changed three times, and once more with newcomer Hank Chien retaking the record this past January (after reigniting the competition by winning it early in the previous February). Chien beat out Steve Wiebe who had beaten archnemesis Billy Mitchell who had beaten Hank Chien who had beaten Billy Mitchell who had beaten Steve Wiebe. Yeah. That thirteen month period contains more storylines than the entire Rocky franchise, and more ups and downs than the porn parody, Not Rocky XXX. Where were Gordon’s cameras when all of that action (the record breaking, pervs, not the sexing) took place? Not that anyone should be the dedicated chronicler of Donkey Kong Record Holders, but if he is going to continue to milk this story, the best possible outcome is to get it from the actual cow. Or, as the case may be, as it is here, the mother gorilla.
* No, Brett Ratner seems to have that sequel covered.
** Steve Wiebe is also keeping busy by appearing in Seth Gordon’s movies, which would admittedly make for a pretty cool meta story arc on a sitcom. (Damn it.)
Rob Payne also writes the indie comic The Unstoppable Force, co-hosts the internet radio show/podcast We’re Not Fanboys, and barrels can be hurled at him on the Twitter @RobOfWar. He would be willing to make an exception for Nathan Fillion to play Wiebe if he promises to just be Castle or Cap’n Reynolds, but possibly not for Johnny Depp to play Mitchell if he even alludes to acting like a Tim Burton Mary Sue or Cap’n Sparrow.