"Balls of Fury" has one thing going for it: when it comes to sports movies, ping-pong is rarely the game of choice. It certainly makes for fresher subject matter than, say, the umpteenth film involving touchdowns or innings. Unlike 2004's "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
" or 2007's "Blades of Glory
," however, it's comedically uninspired and about as dull as a paddle. The laughs are sparse, with most of the slapstick humor and one-liners falling so flat the viewer is almost made uncomfortable by the deafening silence they provoke. Writer-director Robert Ben Garant (2007's "Reno 911!: Miami
") and frequent scripting partner Thomas Lennon (2006's "Night at the Museum
") have no excuse for aiming this low, especially since they have proven with Comedy Central's "Reno 911!" how wickedly droll and witty they can be.
Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler) is a former childhood ping-pong prodigy whose young career was cut short when he lost a legendary match against reigning German champ Karl Wolfschtagg (Thomas Lennon). The effects of this cost him his father's life, and nineteen years later, Randy barely scrapes by as a Reno lounge performer, his glorious past but a distant memory. When he is visited by FBI Agent Ernie Rodriguez (George Lopez) and clued in on the chance to nab his dad's ruthless killer once and for all, he is suddenly pulled back into the cutthroat world of national ping-pong competitions. Does Randy have what it takes to rise to the top and take down the nefarious Feng (Christopher Walken), or is his return engagement to the sport setting him up for another fall?
"Balls of Fury" is precisely the kind of dud that gives a bad name to films opening over the lazy Labor Day weekend. As a spoof of serious sports flicks, it is ninety minutes of wasted potential, with director Robert Ben Garant at a loss on how to send up the conventions. There is a very "Karate Kid"-like Asian ping-pong aficionado, Master Wong (James Hong), for example, but he doesn't guide Randy as much as he stands on the sidelines and participates in endless jokes about his blindness. The plot is strictly threadbare, not helped by a lead who is close to charmless and a character he is avenginghis late father (Robert Patrick)whose fleeting screen time has zero impact on the viewer and whose death apparently has even less impact on Randy himself.
Meanwhile, gags come and go at a quick rate, but they lack the creative punch, the timing, and the necessary payoff for them to work. Curiously, the few elicited chuckles are of blink-and-you'll-miss-them asides, such as an over-the-top staredown between competitors Randy and the muscled Freddy (Terry Crews), or the simple camera reveal that Randy's new girlfriend, the tough and beautiful Maggie Wong (Maggie Q), has lewdly straddled him at the same moment that they have shared their first kiss. The more extended comic bitsthe broadly complex ping-pong matches; the awkwardness between Randy and a male sex slave who has come to satisfy himhit dead ends without fitting conclusions.
In his first major film role, Dan Fogler (2006's "School for Scoundrels
") is manic enough, but in short supply of charisma. He resembles a poor man's Jack Black, both in appearance and in his manner of performance. Better is Christopher Walken (2007's "Hairspray
"). Lord only knows what drew Walken to the hammy part of quirk-addled villain Fengperhaps it was the flashy costumes, which one character describes as clothes you'd find at Elton John's garage salebut the veteran actor at least looks like he's having a jolly time making fun of his own image. As Randy's love interest, Maggie, Maggie Q is as fetching and likable as she was fetching and spiteful in 2007's "Live Free or Die Hard
." And as Feng's henchwoman Mahogany, Aisha Tyler (2006's "The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause
") spends the bulk of her time blowing poisonous darts at people's necks and killing them.
"Balls of Fury" isn't just unattractive from a writing point-of-view; it is also flatly shot in the vein of a late-night syndicated television series, sluggishly paced to ensure that the narrative holds no momentum, and boring. Ping-pong can be a diverting game to play with friends (especially after a few libations), but it is monotonous to watch here, especially since the onscreen matches are fraught with special effects rather than the genuine back-and-forth between two actors with paddles. These scenes, like the collective whole of "Balls of Fury," are artificial, superficial, and just plain insipid.