Balls Of Fury (2007)
Directed by Robert Ben Garant
Written by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant
Starring Dan Fogler, Christopher Walken, George Lopez, Maggie Q, Thomas Lennon, Robert Patrick
Available Dec. 18, 2007
Childhood ping ping prodigy Randy Daytona, who suffered defeat at the 1988 Games, is now a miserable sod performing tricks at a matinee show in Reno. It is here that FBI agent Ernie Rodriguez offers Randy the chance of a lifetime — to slip into an underground ping pong tournament run by the nefarious triad leader Feng to get evidence that will shut down his criminal organization. Randy agrees, and is soon put through a hellish training by blind ping pong master Wong and Wong’s equally abusive niece, Maggie.
After defeating Chinatown’s local legend, The Dragon, Randy is offered a chance to compete in Feng’s tournament, and is bused off to his secret headquarters in Central America. There, Randy and his fellow competitors are offered all the luxuries they can think of before the first round begins and the early losers learn quite to their horror that this is a tournament to the death! Will Randy be able to stay alive long enough to find the evidence he needs, or will he become just another plaque on Feng’s wall of fallen athletes?
Though the trailers might have had you expecting Dodgeball with table tennis instead, this is by no means another retread of the American-style underdog sports genre, but more in lines of a spoof on the martial arts tournament fare that was extremely popular during the heyday of chop-socky cinema, with a particular riffing on the Bruce Lee films.
Written by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, who are known best for their work on the cutting edge sketch comedy show The State and currently for Reno! 911, the pair have a difficult time pinning down the exact comedy that will work for Balls Of Fury. At times it ingeniously takes on martial arts movies and eastern exploitation fare with a straight face, while at other times demotes itself to low brow prat falls and physical comedy, or just skirts the edge of Abrahams and Zucker zaniness. To their credit though, they keep the easy and obvious “balls” jokes at the minimum. Lennon and Garant are in full sketch comedy mode here, squeezing the script tight to maximize jokes-per-minute and switching settings every five minutes. While a lot of the comedy does work, everything comes just way too fast to fully appreciate before you are on to the next bit of crass humor.
The centerpiece of Balls Of Fury is of course the underground tournament, which even in this just-under 90-minute feature, takes too long to get to. Most of the pre-tournament gags became fodder for the trailer, and so it takes almost 45 minutes to get to what feels like some fresh material. It is here that Lennon and Garant’s obvious love for Enter The Dragon comes through, as each scene is practically lifted from the 1973 kung-fu flick and outfitted with the ping pong theme. From the opening courtyard shot in which an army of soldiers train, to the introduction of all the contenders, to the courtesan scene in which our hero is offered a sex slave for the night, everything is filtered through the world of competitive ping pong!
It is also here that we are finally introduced to the high-point of completely-over-the-top acting — Christopher Walken as the triad leader Feng! Is his character supposed to be Chinese? Is he a white man who thinks or just wishes he was Chinese? Does it matter? Walken goes for absolute broke with his manic performance that is only matched by the outrageous costumes he’s outfitted in. Even the plethora of comedians that pop up throughout the movie cannot match this master thespian, who just commands every scene he is in. It may be Walken playing Walken, but no one can do Walken like Walken.
The same cannot be said for lead Dan Fogler, who as Randy channels equal parts Mike Myers and Jon Favreau to balance out his feel-sorry-for-me and over-expressive physical performance. It’s not that Fogler is really bad, but that as a relatively unknown actor seeing him in these situations doesn’t carry the weight of seeing a more seasoned actor in the same role. Coming to assist Fogler though is an array of known comedians. Not only do Lennon and Garant pop in as competitors, but they also bring in Patton Oswalt, Diedrich Bader, and Kerri Kenney. Maggie Q also pops in for the pre-requisite Asian hotness for all of you with yellow fever!
The action is fast n’ ridiculous, the humor crude but never goes far enough to really be called insulting, and the premise is simply asinine. Ping pong as a competitive sport has had it coming for years, it just could have been hit a little more furiously.
The DVD release includes an anamorphic widescreen transfer with Dolby Digital 5.1 with your choice of English or French audio. Served up in the bonus features for the appetizer is a pu pu platter of deleted scenes featuring seven little snippets that were trimmed out during editing, including a little more background information on Feng, and a small subplot involving the ghost of Randy’s dad. The soup is a rather bland alternate ending that could have been used as an opener into a sequel. The main dish is a detailed “Making Of” that includes the writers and most of the actors showcasing their training in the arts of ping pong and their complete adoration of Christopher Walken. Finally, for desert is a rather humorous featurette detailing a day in the life of a ping pong ball wrangler who just happens to be a buxom blonde in short shorts.
Check out the Tournament of Balls online game at: www.ballsoffury.com/game
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