Directed by: Ben Garant
Starring: Dan Fogler, George Lopez, Christopher Walken, Maggie Q, James Hong
Rated: PG-13 for crude and sex-related humor, and for language.
Parental Notes: This is a fairly standard PG-13 comedy full of crude humor. Nothing unusually awful by Hollywood standards, but certainly not intellectual fare.
There have been enough sports movies, both of the sincere sort (“Miracle”) and the parodic sort (“Dodgeball”), that making a new one is a lot like doing a page out of a familiar paint-by-numbers book. “Balls of Fury” is the latest piece of the type, and while it’s a decent page out of the book, it’s still a paint-by-numbers. There are few surprises here for anybody who’s seen a sports movie before, but those in search of another familiar sports comedy will find this a solid entry in the canon.
Our hero, Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler, “School for Scoundrels”), was once an Olympic-level ping pong player, until a nasty fall killed his shot at the gold. Now a washup doing shows in Vegas, he is recruited by FBI Agent Rodriquez (George Lopez, “Tortilla Heaven”) to take out organized crime boss and ping pong fanatic Feng (Christopher Walken, “Hairspray”), who also happens to be the nasty fellow who killed Randy’s father. Feng is having a secret ping pong competition, and Rodriquez wants Randy to earn his way in so that the FBI will have a way to get inside Feng’s operation. But Randy is rusty, so the duo visit blind Master Wong (James Hong, “Shanghai Kiss”), whose ping pong wisdom is matched only by the beauty and skill of his niece (Maggie Q, “Live Free or Die Hard”).
The Wongs teach Randy, even though instructing non-Asians is forbidden in Chinatown, and enable him to improve well enough to be granted an invitation to the tournament. Once inside Feng’s, Randy must contend with some of the best ping pong players in the world, including his nemesis Karl Wolfschtagg (Thomas Lennon, “Reno 911”), in a sudden death elimination tournament — I probably don’t have to tell you that “sudden death” means when you lose, you die.
There are some clever bits scattered through the film. Feng’s custom-made, electrified ping pong set-up (with a few unique house rules) makes for a villainous touch, and the most feared ping pong player in Chinatown is pretty darn funny. I laughed often enough to not consider the film a waste of my time, and it was fun to see a bunch of folks taking ping pong very, very seriously in one over-the-top scene after another.
But there are also plenty of eyeroll-provoking moments. There are the seemingly-requisite homophobic stereotypes. Master Wong is the butt of plenty of worn-out blind-old-man jokes (though Hong does a surprisingly good job of playing a blind man without resorting to contacts or dark glasses). Maggie is the predictably gorgeous girl who dresses scantily, can defeat our hero in ping pong without breaking a sweat, and (of course) falls for him because the script says so rather than the characters being compatible.
Fogler is a relative newcomer to film, having made his mark in the original cast of “The Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” on Broadway and had a handful of small roles in films like “School for Scoundrels” and “Slippery Slope.” He throws himself into the role of Randy Daytona with 100% intensity, which is the only way to make a part like this work. He handles slapstick, verbal, and expressive comedy very well, and it’s a pity that this film isn’t a better vehicle for him.
Ultimately, “Balls of Fury” is neither awesome nor terrible; it’s solidly mediocre. If you’re into sports parody films, it’s worth seeing and you’ll probably enjoy it. If sports parody films aren’t your thing, this isn’t really worth your time unless you’re a fan of middling comedy.