Balls of Fury (2007)Rated PG-13 for crude and sex-related humor, and for language.
Starring Dan Fogler, Christopher Walken, George Lopez, Maggie Q, Thomas Lennon, Robert Patrick.
LVJeff's Rating: 5/10
Photo ©Rogue Pictures. All rights reserved.
Letting the Air Out of the Balls
If the makers of Balls of Fury think ping-pong is an inherently funny sport, they may not be off the mark. But what exactly is funny about it? Perhaps it's the look of it, with two intense opponents utilizing manic reflexes to hit something so small back and forth. Any humor drawn from the game may start and end there -- after all, respect usually builds when one considers the skill involved -- so what else is there left to do in a comedy with ping-pong as part of the premise?
Balls of Fury attempts to build a parody around it, mostly of Enter the Dragon. A former ping-pong prodigy, Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler), is recruited by an FBI agent (George Lopez) to infiltrate the lair of the master (Christopher Walken) of an underground ping-pong tournament, where he's invited only the best players in the world to compete to the death. At this point, Bruce Lee would be all ready to go, but the hero here is chubby and washed-up. Normally, he would be played by Will Ferrell, but center stage is given to Fogler instead, though one wonders why they didn't just do a more straightforward parody by putting Jason Scott Lee in the lead. Alas, the guy who actually did play Bruce Lee in a previous movie only gets a side role here.
So Balls of Fury is really a kind of awkward hybrid comedy, getting its mileage wherever it can find it. The first part deals with Randy's training at the hands of blind Master Wong (James Hong) and his niece Maggie (Maggie Q), and it mainly works because it's apparent Hong is having a ball (no pun intended). Even then, the gags are hit-and-miss, culminating in a face-off between Randy and an unexpected opponent that's exemplary of the problems involving how the comedy is written here. The surprise at who the opponent is serves as the payoff, but afterwards there's little follow-through.
This symptom is most egregiously illustrated by an unpredictable miscalculation that seems to let the air out of the second half of the movie. Apparently, Walken's reputation as a kooky (and now often-impersonated) actor precedes him by about a mile these days, to the point that his casting as the pic's bad guy is one of the big jokes. Once he appears, silly-looking while dressed in traditional Chinese regalia, the movie stops to simply watch him do his Walken thing. And the schtick, if you can call it that, runs out of steam pretty quickly.
I guess somebody eventually had to come up with the idea -- just film Walken being Walken and surely the laughs will come -- but, surprise! The idea's not a good one. I think there's something to be said about having good writing for Walken to deliver; this stuff about deadly games of ping-pong just seems to fall flat. For Walken, the absurdity of his words have to emerge from unpredictable places; spotlighting the obvious doesn't work in favor of his style of humor.
Balls of Fury has its moments, but a little too often the comedy runs into this problem of starting with the punchline and then chewing it until it runs out of flavor. Ping-pong as an underground death sport, see? That's funny, sure, ok. But then where does it go after that? You'll notice the ideas running out when less and less of the humor is coming from ping-pong itself. Towards the end, it's arbitrarily played by some goofy players, and then it gets needless augmentation such as punishment by electrocution for missing a shot. The game is already pregnant with visual humor, but apparently a movie can only exploit so much of it before all the running gags around it begin to feel like they're wearing themselves out.
©Jeffrey Chen, Aug. 23, 2007