Mark Reviews Movies


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Ben Garant

Cast: Dan Fogler, Christopher Walken, George Lopez, Maggie Q, James Hong, Terry Crews, Aisha Taylor, Thomas Lennon, Diedrich Bader, Brett DelBuono, Robert Patrick

MPAA Rating: PG-13  (for crude and sex-related humor, and for language)

Running Time: 1:30

Release Date: 8/29/07

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Review by Mark Dujsik

You can hear the jokes. You can see them. Something in your brain says, Hey, that's kind of funny. Then it wonders, Why aren't I laughing, then? There's something off about Balls of Fury—something in the editing and the comic timing. The jokes are there, but co-writer/director Ben Garant (one of the guys behind the TV series "Reno 911!," who wrote this script with show co-creator Thomas Lennon) just can't quite get them right. When they should be riotously funny, they're merely amusing; when they should at least get a chuckle, they're just dead spots. This is a silly, silly movie. It's a ping pong variation of Enter the Dragon with an excess of quirky characters. It's a concept that needs a continuous burst of energy from all angles to work. Instead, the movie moves at a sluggish pace with clunky editing that misses the punch line too often. The setup has potential, but the script runs out of ideas when it reaches the second act. You know there's trouble when a movie can only get smiles from Christopher Walken, who's trumped here by James Hong, playing a walking, talking cliché with the kind of ease we'd expect from, well, Christopher Walken.

In 1988, table tennis at the Olympics has the world on the edge of its seat. A young kid named Randy Daytona (Brett DelBuono) is about to face Karl Wolfschtagg (Lennon), an angry East German player, for the title. His father (Robert Patrick, nothing more than a cameo, although his cheesy thumbs up makes us wonder what could have been) has placed a bet on his son to win, and members of the Triad are waiting to see what happens. When Randy accidentally falls over trying to a particularly long lob, he's disqualified (but not before saying a line that turns him into a laughing stock in the ping pong community (and that's saying something (sorry, table tennis aficionados))), and his father is murdered. Nineteen years later, the grown Randy (Dan Fogler) works the matinee theater in Reno to little reception. After a show, he's approached by FBI Agent Ernie Rodriguez (George Lopez), who wants him to infiltrate the world of underground ping pong to take down the mysterious crime lord Feng. To get invited to the exclusive tournament, Randy learns the secrets of the game from Mater Wong (Hong) and his hot niece Maggie (Maggie Q).

Wong is blind, but after Garant and Lennon get the obvious joke of him hitting a wall out of the way, the script takes it easy on joking about his visual impairment. There's enough distance between for them to work; just when we start not to expect them, we're hit with one. Because Wong is not merely the vehicle for a series of blind jokes, his character becomes a twisted version of the hackneyed, old mentor who puts the hero under a unorthodox training session and spouts inspirational sayings when he needs them the most. He has Randy practice with only a wooden spoon and tells him, "You must believe in yourself when no one else does; like right now for instance."  His comparison of ping pong to an old prostitute turns into a case of too much self-revelation, and then Randy mistakes the appearance of his lucky cricket for a test of reflexes. Hong delivers these deprecating lines of inspiration with such precise deadpan timing it sometimes takes a moment to realize they're a joke. The build-up to the tourney works for the most part, primarily because of Hong, but Garant's haphazard staging and John Refoua's slapdash editing undermine the jokes too often.

The tournament should be where the movie pulls out the stops, but instead it loses whatever inspiration the setup occasionally showed. There's an eccentric cast of other players, none of whom are too funny, and the movie even stoops to doing an occasional bullet-time effect, which stopped being funny almost as soon as the effect started being overdone (in other words, immediately after The Matrix), as they play. There's a pointless scene with a male courtesan (Diedrich Bader), and the other men in his profession turn into a bunch of screaming, gay-panic jokes in the climax. The character of Feng has one joke, and it's the fact that he's played by Walken, who seems to have come to terms with the fact that he can be a punch line. Unfortunately, it just means his character isn't particularly funny after his first appearance. No one else stands out, either. George Lopez revels in the idea of playing a Bond-like spy for once and ends up shouting lines from Scarface. Dan Fogler is functional as the unlikely hero, but the movie doesn't give him a chance to show what comic potential he might possess.

There are admittedly a few laughs and a few more giggles to be had with this material, but Balls of Fury seems like the working outline of a more competently silly, more energetic comedy. I never thought I'd see the day when Christopher Walken is upstaged by a dead panda, but here it is.

Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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