Balls of Fury (2007): Aggressively Silly Spoof

Reviewed by Tim Grierson

A juvenile comedy aiming for dumb, obvious humor, Balls of Fury can only be evaluated under one criterion: the amount of chuckles, giggles, and outright howls of laughter it elicits.

Unfortunately, on this scale, the movie fails horribly as this lame spoof of sports films and martial-art flicks drifts along with low energy and uninspired shtick, never establishing much comedic momentum.

Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler) is a disillusioned thirtysomething slacker who as a child enjoyed the international spotlight as a rising young ping-pong champion. His humiliating defeat during the 1988 Olympics shattered his confidence, scarring him so badly that he swore off the game ever since. But a U.S. government agent (George Lopez) offers him a second chance: Randy is to infiltrate an illicit international table-tennis tournament run by the evil Feng (Christopher Walken), who had assassinated Randys father years ago because of gambling debts.

Randy agrees to the undercover assignment, which sets into motion a training regimen to regain his ping-pong skills, aided by legendary master Wong (James Hong) and his beautiful niece Maggie (Maggie Q). Confidence restored, he journeys to the tournament, taking on colorful opponents of different racial and ethnic backgrounds. Once there, he discovers that this is a literal sudden-death competition the loser of each match will be killed, leaving the tournament champion as the lone survivor.

Directed by Robert Ben Garant and co-written with his creative partner Thomas Lennon, Balls of Fury (much like their Reno 911! TV series) is an aggressively silly send-up of pop cultures most enduring images.

In the case of Balls of Fury, that means jokes that reference The Karate Kid, Enter the Dragon, James Bond films, The Matrix, and whatever else the writers can think of at any given moment. In the right hands, such frenetic frivolity can generate a giddy wave of goofy laughs, but here the filmmakers settle for a collection of tired gags that target homosexual and Asian stereotypes without the necessary amounts of irreverence or daring.

Balls of Fury lacks the desperate gusto of other recent spoof films, such as Epic Movie or Scary Movie 4, where wave after wave of jokes is launched at the audience in the hopes that maybe 25 percent of them will succeed. While neither of those earlier films would rank as comedic masterpiece, it’s interesting to note that Balls of Fury seems shockingly tame by comparison. Even the expected getting-hit-in-the-crotch humor is minimal and halfhearted. There are many dull patches between jokes in Balls of Fury, which makes it very hard for the movie to get much of a comedic rhythm going.

The performances are decidedly subpar as the actors strain to find something funny in threadbare material. As the disgraced former prodigy who rediscovers his talent, Dan Fogler mostly resembles a less-kinetic variation of Jack Blacks onscreen persona with his long hair, portly figure, and love of bad hard-rock music. The two men differ sharply, though, in that Fogler displays little charisma. Quite simply, he doesnt exude the comic sensibility of a leading man, and the movies energy is consistently at a low ebb because of that deficiency.

In the wise-old-elder role, James Hong is serviceable, but while the character is meant to be intentionally clichd, the writers havent figured out funny ways to satirize those clichs. The usually glamorous and seductive Maggie Q is surprisingly inert as the love interest, though she momentarily comes to life in her poorly choreographed and edited fight scenes.

By now, Christopher Walkens very presence in any film guarantees at least one bright spot, but hearing him speak such woefully unfunny lines is to be reminded that even someone of his talent can only do so much with feeble writing.

It would be unfair to hold spoof films to the same technical standards as prestige costume dramas or epic action-adventures, but Balls of Fury is noticeably shoddy in its lighting and lensing. The entire production seems better suited for cable viewing than a movie theater experience. Garants direction is static and stagy, and the films showpiece scenes involving kung-fu action or high-stakes ping-pong play are drearily arranged.

Since it appears that most (if not all) of the impressive ping-pong play is actually aided by computer effects, the audience is even denied the pleasure of watching some high-quality table tennis. Although its doubtful the movies target audience is going to the theater for the ping-pong, curious filmgoers should be advised that if theyre expecting a barrage of great bad jokes and silly physical comedy, they will be sorely disappointed to learn that both commodities are in short supply here.

Cast

Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler)
Feng (Christopher Walken)
Agent Rodriguez (George Lopez)
Maggie (Maggie Q)
Sgt. Pete Daytona (Robert Patrick)
Wong (James Hong)

Credits

Running time: 90 minutes

Director: Robert Ben Garant
Production companies: Rogue Pictures, Intrepid Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, Birnbaum/Barber Productions
US distribution: Rogue Pictures
Executive producers: Ron Schmidt, Derek Evans
Producers: Roger Birnbaum, Gary Barber, Jonathan Glickman, Thomas Lennon
Screenplay: Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant
Cinematography: Thomas E. Ackerman
Editor: John Refoua
Production design: Jeff Knipp
Music: Randy Edelman