Balls of Fury

Cast:
Dan Fogler as Randy Daytona
Christopher Walken as Feng
George Lopez as Agent Ernie Rodriquez
Maggie Q as Maggie Wong
James Hong as Master Wong
Terry Crews as Freddy
Robert Patrick as Sgt. Pete Daytona
Diedrich Bader as Gary
Aisha Tyler as Mahogany
Thomas Lennon as Karl Wolfschtagg
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Mysterious Asian Man
Brett DelBuono as Young Randy (12 Yrs. Old)
Jason Scott Lee as Siu-Foo

Directed by Robert Ben Garant

Summary:
“Balls of Fury” isn’t the funniest movie ever made, but there’s enough silly and sometimes stupid fun that you won’t completely despise yourself for enjoying it.

Story:
At 12 years old, Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler) was a table tennis champ, but after an embarrassing defeat at the ’88 Olympics which led to his father’s death, he stopped competing for 19 years until he’s approached by an FBI agent (George Lopez) to infiltrate a crime ring run by Master Feng (Christopher Walken) by taking part in his annual ping pong tournament. Randy hopes to use this opportunity to gain back his lost pride and get revenge on Feng for his part in his father’s death.

Analysis:
You almost have to feel sorry for “Balls of Fury” having been delayed so long that it’s now coming out after “Hot Fuzz,” “Knocked Up” and “Superbad,” three impeccable comedies that make it hard for any comedy to live up to them. Written by Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, two of the creators of “Reno 911!” who’ve been paying their rent by writing mainstream pap like “The Pacifier” and “Night at the Museum.” This unconventional sports comedy allows them to find a happy medium between the two extremes, but Garant’s second directing credit of the year owes more to their work-for-hire than the improv-heavy “Reno 911!”

It opens at the 1988 Olympics where 12-year-old Randy Daytona’s loss in the finals to the East German contender winds up in the murder of his gambling father at the hands of the Chinese Triad gang. 19 years later, the humiliated Daytona is little more than a Reno act until he’s coerced by an FBI agent, played by George Lopez in an embarrassingly hammy way, to take part in Master Feng’s annual tournament… to the death! After an intensive training session at the hands of the Chinese master Wong (James Hong), Randy is ready to take on all challengers as a distraction while the FBI examines Feng’s operation.

There’s just so much you can do with a comedy where most of the humor comes from the fact that it’s a sports movie dealing with ping pong, rather than football or basketball or baseball. Once all of the obvious jokes are out of the way and it gets past the fact that ping pong isn’t a particularly entertaining “sport”—even when given “The Matrix treatment”—it turns into something more like a ’70s Kung Fu movie. Lennon and Garant have assembled a decent comic cast, but at times, the movie is far too tightly-scripted almost to a fault, often relying on obvious gags and pratfalls to get laughs once it runs out of steam.

Dan Fogler has a ways to go before he can carry a movie in the way this movie needs him too, and one can only presume that a seasoned comic like Jack Black would have been able to do a lot more with the character of Randy Daytona. Despite the number of Asian stereotypes, you can’t help but respect that the two Asian actors are the strongest aspect of the movie with character actor James Hong having way too much fun as the blind ping pong master Wong, probably his biggest role since “Big Trouble in Little China.” Maggie Q shows that she’s just as good at comedy as she is at wire-fu martial arts as Wong’s beautiful niece Maggie, who teaches Randy a few new tricks and predictably becomes his love interest; she’s able to keep up with anything thrown at her while showing off in some of the movie’s best action scenes. Just when their bits seem to have run their course, along comes Christopher Walken as the obviously gay Master Feng delivering lines in his often-imitated style, and though he’s a funny character at first, things tend to drag once it gets into the actual ping pong tournament. Diedrich Bader of “3rd Rock from The Sun” gets more than a few yucks as one of Feng’s imprisoned sex slaves, but co-writer Thomas Lennon’s Karl Wolfschtagg is little more than a dull cliché.

Beyond that, Garant is proving himself to be quite an adept director in terms of taking a fairly low budget and matching production values of more expensive sports movies like “Dodgeball” and “Blades of Glory” with an amazing attention to detail in paying tribute to martial arts movies like “Enter the Dragon,” which is clearly the film’s biggest influence. That and Def Leppard, whose career hopefully isn’t riding on being forever linked with ping pong after people watch this movie.

The Bottom Line:
“Balls of Fury” is only as funny as some of its better ideas, and while there are enough of those scattered throughout to keep one entertained, this still pales in comparison to this year’s stronger comedies and the sports comedies it tries to emulate. It might be somewhat disappointing that it’s not the non-stop laughfest one might expect from those involved.

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