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Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest review – endearing portrait of video game obsession

This Danish documentary from Mads Hedegaard owes a debt to King of Kong but thrives as an exploration of loveable outsiders

Taking its cues, unashamedly, from the 2007 documentary King of Kong, the Danish feature Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest works best as an exploration of the intersection between video game obsession and male friendship, even if it never quite escapes the shadow of that better film. In spite of its almost identical aesthetic look and premise – an unassuming, likeable man attempts to set a ridiculous world record on a classic arcade machine – it sets itself apart as a charming portrait of loveable outsiders, including the titular Kim Kobke, whose arcade prowess has earned him the nickname “Cannon Arm.”

Unlike King of Kong, director Mads Hedegaard's baggier film lacks a compelling villain – Kong's infamous baddie Billy Mitchell (who actually makes a brief appearance here, albeit over the phone, in a typically arrogant manner) is initially hailed as a God by these gamers (until, in an amusing twist of fate, he isn't). No, the villain here is time itself: Kim wants to break the world record for continuously playing a 1983 shoot 'em up called Gyruss, which – at the time of filming – stands at 100 hours.

This is as much a documentary about the people who surround Kim as it is Kim himself – and he is a quiet, mysterious presence, a man of very few words who remains something of an enigma throughout. The group, embedded in a world of their own making built on mutual respect and support, prove more fascinating than the impossible task at hand: bright, impressive individuals with normal day jobs but plenty of hidden depths, who bond over their affinity for life's patterns. Away from the noise of the arcade, the film finds poignant scenes, like the one in which members of the group visit the grave of a friend who recently committed suicide, and we glimpse a sadder side to the often chirpy exterior.

The film is subject to over-editing and a general manicness that is at times exhausting, not to mention plenty of digressions, some interesting, some grating, all of which make it hard to escape the feeling that the runtime has been padded out. But Cannon Arm's portrait of a community is infectious, the people it captures likeable to the point that you don't resent time spent in their company. The message that the quest at hand isn't really about a love of video gaming, but these friends' love of simply achieving something together, is hard to resist.

Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest is released in UK cinemas on 24 June.

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