BALLS OF FURY (2007)
Starring Dan Fogler, George Lopez, Christopher Walken, Maggie Q, James Hong, Aisha Tyler, Patton Oswalt, Thomas Lennon, Jason Scott Lee, Terry Crews, Jim Lampley, Robert Patrick, Brett DelBuono, Jaci Adams and Diedrich Bader.
Screenplay by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon.
Directed by Robert Ben Garant.
Distributed by Rogue Features. 90 minutes. Rated PG-13.
I have to admit, I didn’t have much in the way of expectations when I went into Balls of Fury. A madcap comedy about ping pong? How good can it be?
Turns out, pretty damned good. Oh sure, it runs out of steam in the last half hour — like it seems every comedy made these days — but when it was working, Balls of Fury made me laugh as much as any movie so far this year. It’s smart, subversive, slimy, silly and undeniably pretty damned hilarious.
This is doubly surprising because it comes from Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, the writing/directing team behind arguably the worst comedy of this year — Reno 911! Miami.
Balls of Fury makes up for that debacle, though. Well, almost…
Apparently the movie is a parody of the old Bruce Lee classic Enter the Dragon, about a martial artist who is approached by the FBI to use his skills infiltrate a master villain’s deadly tournament.
Now, I am no fan of martial arts films. I’ve never seen Enter the Dragon, so I am not mining a deep vein of satire that the average viewer would never catch up on. In fact, I probably completely missed a lot of genre-specific jokes that may kill with Bruce Lee fans. (For example, I’m sure there is some deeper meaning in the supporting role by a nearly unrecognizable Jason Scott Lee — who played the martial arts master in Dragon – The Bruce Lee Story. I’m just not sure what it is, unless it is simply the surface joke of having a guy who played Bruce Lee in a movie which spoofs Bruce Lee.)
Dan Fogler — who is pretty much a movie newcomer here but is coming off of an acclaimed Broadway run in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee — has slob appeal, a goofy-funny sense of delivery and a willingness to let no gross-out humor sink too low. He plays Randy Daytona, a former child ping pong prodigy who was disgraced at twelve-years-old and is now reduced to being an overweight lounge act who does ping pong stunts at a Nevada steak house.
Sitcom star George Lopez has fun with the straight man role of the Fed who assigned to help Daytona in the case. Maggie Q is sexy and funny in the love interest role — not that you believe her hard-boiled ping-pong expert would give Daytona the time of day for even a second.
Christopher Walken is very funny in the role of the bad guy Feng — and yet a weird dynamic comes into play. Walken has been lampooned so often and so thoroughly by comedians over the years that when he actually does it himself it seems a little like overkill. We’ve seen it all before, even when it wasn’t coming from the performer himself. Still, no one can deliver lines like “I bid you toodles” with more poker-faced glee and malevolence.
Shockingly, the funniest person here is elderly Asian character actor James Hong (perhaps best known as the maitre d’ in the classic Seinfeld Chinese restaurant episode). Playing a blind and slightly foul-mouthed ping pong instructor, Hong consistently steals every single scene from his more well-known comic co-stars.
The story is just tweaking a series of movie clichés, and yet the jokes are flowing steadily enough that you are willing to overlook this fact. In the end, once you get to the evil lair sequence — like all evil lair sequences ever (and there are tons of them in movie history) — the movie comes to a crashing halt. However, by now the movie has earned the right for a slow patch. It’s too bad that the movie runs out of momentum so close to the finishing line. Luckily, the laughs that preceded this part makes it a winner on any field.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: August 23, 2007.