Balls of Fury (2007) / Comedy-Action
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some violence, sexual humor and language
Running time: 90 min.
Cast: Dan Fogler, James Hong, Christopher Walken, George Lopez, Maggie Q, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Thomas Lennon, Jason Scott Lee, Terry Crews, Robert Patrick, Diedrich Bader, Brett DelBuono, David Koechner
Director: Robert Ben Garant
Screenplay: Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant
Balls of Fury may struggle to find a widespread audience, as it is, as its core, merely a farce on old Bruce Lee flicks (the title itself takes off of Lee's Fists of Fury) inserting ping pong in place of kung fu action. In fact, the entire plot is little more than a satire of Lee's most popular work, Enter the Dragon, complete with a hidden locale, an international slate of fighters, sex slaves, and battles to the death. Interspersed are other references to martial arts entertainment like The Karate Kid and TV's "Kung Fu", with Scarface and Doctor No thrown in for good measure. Although the sophomoric humor is mostly aimed at the younger set, the Def Leppard songs and allusions to films and TV shows from the 1970s and 1980s will most likely not be understood fully by many under 30.
Dan Fogler (Good Luck Chuck, Hyper) stars as former child prodigy Randy Daytona, who was once considered one of the world's elite table tennis champions before tragedy would strike (his father expiring) and he'd be humiliated in front of the entire world. Twenty years later, Dan has resorted to using his talents as a Reno show act to meager crowds. He catches a bit of a break when he is visited by an FBI agent, Ernie Rodriguez (Lopez, Real Women Have Curves), who wants Randy to serve his country by going undercover to help bring down one of the world's most notorious Triad masterminds, Feng (Walken, Man of the Year). Feng has been busy rounding up the world's best ping pong players to compete in a battle royale to the death for his own entertainment, but Randy is rusty in his skills. To help out, he seeks the sage advice of a former champion in Chinatown, Master Wong (Hong, The Shadow), and his niece Maggie (Maggie Q, Live Free or Die Hard), who make sure that Randy can compete to win and give the FBI the tip-off on the location of Feng's secret lair.
As with most dumb comedies, mileage will most certainly vary. If you love Bruce Lee flicks and the current craze for sports comedies (think Dodgeball meets Shaolin Soccer), you're probably the kind of person who will enjoy this the most. However, if you're expecting one of those gag-a-minute, crude and lewd fests, you're going to be disappointed, as the screenplay by Reno 911's Lennon and Garant (Night at the Museum, Herbie Fully Loaded) is going more for silly laughs than it is in gross-out gags. In one of the more clever twists, Enter the Dragon's sex slave scene tosses in a different spin -- making the women into men -- funny, and done with more subtlety than most other films would have shown. While other dumb comedies would have made this into some sort of rape scene, the boys decide to play Boggle instead, though the blind Master Wong indulges with a comment nearly under the radar talking about how the "woman" he was with gave him the time of his life.
The jokes are more smilers than knee-slappers, although often surprisingly clever from a visual standpoint. One of the highlights is a showdown between Feng and Randy to the death, where they must bounce a ball off of any object they choose while wearing suits that will electrocute the loser. In this fashion, it's very much in the vein of the broad Hong Kong comedies, especially those starring Stephen Chow, although starring more of a Jack Black-type in Fogler. Walken caricatures himself yet again, which is still amusing, though not nearly as fresh as in previous efforts. Fogler is more of a placeholder funny fat guy, and you get the feeling it might have been written with Jack Black in mind, if he were available and interested. The visual style of the film impresses, it's just that the jokes never quite catch fire like they should -- they are more funny in the mind than in the gut. It never goes for the big, brazen laughs others would relish; perhaps it's apropos that the film extols the virtues of a small set of balls throughout.
Although it may not be worth the time and expense of rounding up the family for a jaunt to the theater, I suspect Balls of Fury will find its cult audience on the small screen, especially on DVD, where those who see it multiple times can just skip to their favorite parts.
©2007 Vince Leo