MOVIE REVIEW- Bad bounce: Apply paddle to 'Balls of Fury' makers
Timing is everything in comedy, and in the movie business that goes double for the timing of a film's release. Death at a Funeral got lost in the shadow of Superbad, opening the same weekend. Following those two, plus Rush Hour 3 and Mr. Bean's Holiday, in the same month would be a daunting task, even for a far funnier film than Balls of Fury.
Made with the spirit but not the skill of the Airplane! and Naked Gun movies, Balls of Fury is a cheap-looking one-off by the Reno 911! team of director Robert Ben Garant (Deputy Travis Junior) and his co-writer Thomas Lennon (Lt. Jim Dangle). Perhaps it's significant that they didn't mention it was in the works when they toured a few months ago promoting the hilarious Reno 911!: Miami.
The plot is a spoof of Enter the Dragon, with ping pong replacing martial arts as the subject of an international tournament sponsored by a major bad dude. In this unofficial Year of the Chubby Leading Man (Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill), Dan Fogler stars as Randy Daytona, who narrowly lost the ping pong championship in the 1988 Olympics to Germany's Karl Wolfschtagg (Lennon, looking more like Kiefer Sutherland than Jim Dangle, except for the tight shorts).
Nineteen years later, Randy's wasting his ping pong skills as a lounge act in Reno when he's recruited by FBI Agent Rodriguez (George Lopez) to go undercover and get invited to the "high-stakes tournament at a secret location" held every five years by the notorious Feng (Christopher Walken). The FBI's been after Feng forever, and this could be a chance for Rodriguez to gather evidence against him.
Coincidentally, Feng killed Randy's father (Robert Patrick) all those years ago, so he's got a personal reason to go after Feng in addition to patriotism, doing the right thing and restoring his own dignity. Are you laughing yet?
Needing a refresher course, Randy is sent to Master Wong (James Hong), the old blind teacher (and Chinese restaurateur) who also trained Feng. While Wong spouts wisdom like Mr. Miyagi, the hands-on (but hands off!) work is left to his niece, Maggie (Maggie Q).
At Feng's jungle hideaway Randy, Rodriguez and Wong are offered "courtesans of pleasure" (trafficking in sex slaves is one of Feng's enterprises) to help them relax the night before the tournament. These courtesans happen to be of the male variety, and the guests don't have the option of refusing, which opens the door to a lot of mildly homophobic humor. Diedrich Bader plays Gary, Randy's date for the night, who wishes he'd "never gone to that audition in Orlando."
The final portion struggles frantically to resolve the story, leaving any pretense at coherence behind along with most of the humor.
Fogler, who won a Tony in Broadway's The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, proves more of a good sport than a good actor here. The same goes for Walken, who has brought more flair to SNL sketches. What can he do with an all-American character– who affects chinoiserie in his name and wardrobe but says things like "Okey dokey artichokey" and "Toodles"– except use Feng's sexual orientation to add another level of creepiness?
The cast includes Jason Scott Lee, Terry Crews, Aisha Tyler, and breakout Heroes star Masi Oka as a washroom attendant.
Whatever combination of CG and stuntwork was required for the ping pong sequences, especially one in which Maggie takes on four men at once, yields impressive results. Maybe they should have made a serious ping pong movie. It couldn't have been any worse, and it wouldn't have had any dead panda jokes to inspire PETA to picket theaters where it's playing.
If you're looking for pure silliness and don't care that it's rarely inspired, plus more Def Leppard songs than anyone's heard in a long time, Balls of Fury may meet your needs; but its makers deserve a paddling.