Balls of Fury

Sometimes a movie is just better as a title and a trailer. They should just leave well enough alone and not release the actual film. Balls of Fury, a spoof featuring table tennis matches to the death, looked amusing when the trailers were shown earlier in the year. The title, while not exactly sophisticated, is good for a titter. The movie, unfortunately, is not. Spoofing table tennis in a movie almost seems like a redundancy. Director/co-writer Robert Ben Garant explains in one of the DVD extras that Balls of Fury is not so much a table tennis spoof as a spoof of kung fu movies where all of the kung fu is replaced by table tennis. Think Enter the Dragon with a white, fat, Def Leppard fan instead of Bruce Lee. It’s easy to see why Ben Garant and his co-writer, Thomas Lennon, felt they had something on their hands. It really is a good idea. The main problem is that the result needs to make you laugh and this movie doesn’t succeed in that very often.

The story follows Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler), who at the age of 12 went to the 1988 Olympics representing the United States in table tennis. Randy not only lost to East German Karl Wolfschtagg (co-writer Lennon) but embarrassed himself in front of the world and saw his Marine father (Robert Patrick, in a blink and you’ll miss him role) killed for losing a bet to a mysterious man named Feng.

Almost 20 years later, Randy is performing table tennis tricks to uninterested crowds in a Reno casino (a nod to Ben Garant and Lennon’s day job as Lt. Dangle and Office Junior on Reno 911!.) He’s approached by FBI Agent Ernie Rodriguez (George Lopez) and asked to infiltrate a secret table tennis tournament in order to get the Feds closer to the arms dealer who runs the contest, Feng. Randy’s competition skills are rusty which leads him to blind teacher, Master Wong (James Hong) and his table tennis/kung fu/super hot daughter Maggie (Maggie Q, last seen in Mission: Impossible III).

Master Wong and Maggie get Randy tournament ready using such Karate Kid-like methods as having him play with a wooden spoon or locking him in a room with bees and a spatula. It’s worth a few scattered laughs but most of the jokes are too obvious, telegraphed, and derivative. When Randy is told to play “The Dragon” a feared kingpin in the local table tennis scene, it should surprise no one when she turns out to be a 10-year old girl. Nor is it surprising when after losing and beginning to cry, she kicks Randy in the nuts.

The biggest disappointment in the movie is that the mysterious Feng turns out to be Christopher Walken. Wearing outfits that make him look like a bondage geisha, the big joke is apparently that although his name is Feng and he wears Asian outfits, he sounds and acts like Christopher Walken. It, like the title of the movie, was a funny idea that loses something in execution.

It’s too bad for Fogler, a well known stage actor who won a Tony award, since he’s a likeable guy who is doing his best. He and Jason Scott Lee as a tough guy disciple of The Dragon are the best things about this movie. Lee has a flair for comedy and actually seems to be trying, unlike Lopez and Walken who both phone it in. There is a lot of fast table tennis played, but it is obvious they are using computer generated balls (insert joke here.) When a few Matrix shots of people serving are thrown in, you can only think about how that joke seemed played out four years ago. Then Lopez throws out a Scarface imitation and you wonder if that has been funny for a decade.

The comedy is not completely absent from Balls of Fury, but it’s not abundant or unique. A movie needs to be more than a bunch of testicle jokes. There might be a great table tennis comedy out there waiting to be made, but this isn’t it. The Balls of Fury disc survives on the “as little as we can get away with” principle. The producers have put a few features on the disc, but not enough to make up for the weak content in the movie itself. There is no filmmaker’s commentary. When I watch a mediocre movie, I’m often glad when a commentary doesn’t exist, so I don’t have to watch it again. In this case, I do think that Ben Garant and Lennon are funny guys (Reno 911! is brilliant) so a commentary might have been somewhat fun.

Ben Garant and Lennon do take part in the featurette “Balls Out: The Making of Balls of Fury. It’s about 15 minutes long and is pretty standard, although they make a more direct connection between the movie and the movies of Bruce Lee than you might notice yourself. Lennon also notes that he spent more time thinking about the hair and costumes of his characters than what they would be saying. He’s clearly joking but it hints at why the movie isn’t as funny as it could have been.

Another “ball” related extra is a spoof extra in the same way that the movie is a spoof, with similar success. Called “Under the Balls: The Life of a Ball Wrangler,” the extra purports to follow the movie’s “ball wrangler” a buxom woman in short shorts. It is an excuse to have her do things like hand wash and blow dry the ping pong balls. The highlight is her misplacing the blue colored balls and running around the set asking if anyone has “blue balls.” Ha. Ha. Ha.

The disc also contains a group of deleted scenes and an alternate ending. The deleted scenes are scattered throughout the film and it is obvious where they would fall into the completed film. Still, it’s surprising the number of times these scenes exist without more context of where they should have been and why they were cut. The alternate scene sets up a sequel (gasp) by having Lopez offer Fogler another table tennis related undercover assignment. The actual ending, which involves a joke about Master Wong’s blindness, is funnier, so this might be one of the better choices they made when putting the movie together.

Balls of Fury is not a very good movie and the disc isn’t much either. It does have good sound and picture quality, as should be expected from a major studio release. It may entertain those looking for brainless humor, especially if crotch kicks seem hilarious.