One of the few things I enjoyed about “Horrible Bosses” is Colin Farrell’s coke-snorting, business-inheriting Asiaphile, Bobby Pellitt. Even before I saw the movie, the actor’s appearance alone — including his worst hairdo yet — made me think of real-life arcade-game champion Billy Mitchell. I thought Farrell would be perfect for the part of Mitchell in New Line’s long-threatened remake of Seth Gordon’s documentary “The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters,” opposite my first choice for rival Donkey Kong player Steve Wiebe, Will Forte.
Well, it turns out Gordon, who also directed “Bosses,” would consider Farrell for the Mitchell role in the narrative redo, which we’ve heard might actually be a kind of sequel and now is being proposed as a mockumentary. According to Movieline’s Jen Yamato, who moderated a Q&A with the filmmaker over the weekend, Farrell was even shown “King of Kong” in order for him to be inspired by Mitchell for the Pellitt character. And he clearly was. So why does this information make me hate “Bosses” even more than I already did?
I love “King of Kong” and have always appreciated the way Gordon framed the narrative of the true story to have a good guy and a bad guy. It’s well done in that regard. But is it fair to Mitchell? Or is he accepted enough as a villain in real life so it’s okay to depict him as such on screen? He does compare himself to the Red Baron on camera, after all. But lately I’ve pondered the ethical issue of villain-izing real people for narrative purposes as well as the relative problem of documentarians ridiculing their subjects (see my interview with James Marsh for some of this and look for my Movies.com column this week for more on the latter topic). I can’t say I totally feel bad for Mitchell, and much of the way he comes across as a jerk in “Kong” is his own doing.
Still, continued mockery is not fair, and that is precisely what Gordon is doing with “Bosses.” Especially in admitting to the fact that he’s doing as much. Real people inspire fictional characters all the time, like Keith Richards being lampooned through Captain Jack Sparrow. And rarely is it consensual, let alone flatteringly accepted (like Richards with Sparrow). No way would Mitchell be happy about what he has inadvertently given life to in “Bosses.”
Mitchell surely doesn’t even like what he helped make with “Kong,” a film that does little to fully flesh him out as more than a cartoonish enemy for Wiebe the hero, like a video game “boss” to be defeated. As Gordon pointed out to Yamato and the “Bosses” audience, Mitchell doesn’t return his calls. That’s the reason given for why Wiebe gets cameo extra work in Gordon’s Hollywood efforts (the other being “Four Christmases”), further proving he’s the favored subject, while Mitchell stays out of further cinematic spotlight (directly anyway). Obviously Mitchell is avoiding Gordon because the director doesn’t respect his subject, still apparent in this “Bosses” revelation. Even some of us who root against him during the doc can accept this as a foul move.
For more on my dislike of “Horrible Bosses” read my review.