345 – Balls of Fury

Balls of Fury is amiable to the point of being gregarious, but many of its jokes – verbal and visual – either just miss or misfire completely, and when it’s over you start thinking of better ways you could have spent the previous ninety minutes. Highlights include Christopher Walken’s waaaaay over the top performance as Feng, a mysterious, rich, eccentric ping pong fan; Thomas Lennon as an ubermean German Olympian; the luxuriant Maggie Q as a table tennis champion who dresses in skimpy short-shorts; and comically terrified male sex slaves.

Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler) was once a promising young ping ponger. Back in 1988, he made the U.S. Olympic team and was all set (at age 12) to win against Lennon’s Karl Wolfschtagg when he slipped and fell and couldn’t return a serve, thus not only losing his chance at a medal but also sealing his father’s fate, as the elder Daytona had bet heavily on the match. Years later, the adult Randy is approached by FBI Agent Rodriguez (George Lopez) to help the government  nail the guy who had Randy’s pop iced – a mysterious man named Feng, whose face no one’s photographed or even seen. The feds know Feng’s up to evil plans, but they need Randy to enter a private, super-secret ping pong tournament run by Feng at his undisclosed lair so they can get the goods on him.

Randy sucks at ping pong now, though, so he must undergo Karate Kid-like training under the wise tutelage of the blind Master Wong (James Hong). To make sure no stereotypes are left alone, Wong also runs a Chinese restaurant. Oh well, at least he doesn’t say the whole training bit is an ancient Chinese secret. Anyway, Wong’s got a niece, or daughter, I’ve already forgotten which, who is superdupercrazygood at competitive ping pong. She can even fend off four players while taking orders over the phone at the restaurant, she’s that darn good. Of course, it falls to her – that would be Maggie Q playing (get this) a woman named Maggie – to train the living bejeezus out of Randy. It should be pointed out here that while Maggie is sensual, gorgeous, and overall wonderful, Randy is fat, slovenly, a little sarcastic. In other words, it’s a typical movie love-match, isn’t it? From the moment Maggie puts Randy’s arm in a chicken wing, you know they’re gonna hook up.

But the real fun comes at Feng’s tournament. For one thing, Walken’s Feng is wearing a different outfit every time you see him, seemingly; he’s sort of like Ming the Merciless, only not as bland. Walken vamps like only Walken can vamp, but it’s sort of easy to steal a movie from guys like Fogler and Lopez. Even so, it’s hard to overstate how much Walken overacts, even for Walken. If you’re not a Walken fan, that is to say, you’ll find nothing to like about this movie. Sure, some may call it hammy acting, but it’s acting… nonetheless… isn’t it?

Then there’s the tourney itself – it’s sudden death, you see, and that’s meant literally. Lose, and you get a blowdart to the neck, courtesy of Feng’s right-hand chica, played by Aisha Tyler. And of course, along the way the underdog Randy must face his old enemy Karl, who so gleefully ended Daytona’s amateur – and professional – career nearly twenty years earlier. But Randy’s not even sure he wants to stick around, seeing as how everyone’s getting killed. He’s funny like that.

Balls of Fury, brought to you by the guys behind Reno 911 and A Night at the Museum, does have its moments of funny, but by and large it suffers from a scattershot script and haphazard directing – it looks almost like it’s some film student’s final thesis project thingy. It’s not quite as good as it should have been, and it’s not nearly funny enough to be worth a theater ticket.

**

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