Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler), a former ping-pong wunderkind (he was the favorite at the ‘88 Olympics in Seoul) now ekes out an existence doing ping pong tricks in a low-rent show on the Reno strip. He still plays the game, but nothing in his life has gone right, so he is a bit sad and just ordinary life is a bit of a struggle. Agent Rodriguez (George Lopez) shows up and asks for his help; a master criminal by the name of Feng (a bizarre Christopher Walken) is getting ready to host his high stakes invitation-only ping-pong tournament. The FBI thinks the only way they can get close to Feng, and shut down his operations, is to infiltrate this tournament. Randy is reluctant, but his dad (Robert Patrick) was reportedly killed by Feng, so he has additional incentive to compete. Randy has to win a couple of tournaments to attract Feng’s attention and earn a golden ping-pong paddle invitation. They turn to Master Wong (James Hong) and his daughter Maggie (Maggie Q), a ferocious competitor, to help them get Randy up to speed. They eventually end up at Feng’s top-secret compound and the games begin.
“Balls of Fury”, co-written by Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant and directed by Ben Garant, has a few amusing scenes and made me laugh a few times, but it also misses a lot of opportunity or creates humor that is simply too, too low brow to make a lasting impression.
The best thing about the film, and this is often the case, is Christopher Walken. His performance is bizarre and that says a lot about Walken, who seems to make his career playing strange, off-center characters. In his last film, he played the husband of a 300-pound woman played by John Travolta. As Feng, Walken wears an elaborate Fu Macho-like costume and headdress. They have thankfully steered clear of the stereotypical moustache and eye treatment, but this only serves to make his performance all the more strange. He doesn’t make even the smallest attempt to even try to appear Asian, beyond the costume. He doesn’t try to create an Asian character. He simply is Christopher Walken wearing an elaborate kimono and a black wig. Yet, he is supposed to be an Asian super villain who has been able to elude the authorities for years and years. It doesn’t make sense. But it isn’t supposed to, so I went along for the ride.
Walken always appears to be having fun. And this is what helps to make him a more likable and watchable onscreen personality. He clearly realizes how ludicrous Feng is, and how stupid the film is and doesn’t take either too seriously. He frequently smiles, and his familiar speech pattern helps to make the role all the more unusual. At one point, he reaches over and pinches Randy on the cheeks and does a little baby talk gesture parents often do to their children. An Asian super villain?
As fun and interesting as Walken is, the same cannot be said of the rest of the cast.
Dan Fogler plays Randy Daytona who has the appearance of the lovechild of Jack Black and Will Farrell; yet, he isn’t as good as either of them. He certainly has the looks of an out of practice athlete, but he isn’t funny and his character isn’t interesting simply because he exists. Fogler is more interesting at the beginning of the film, as the character of Randy Daytona is being established; we see shots of Ron and Nancy watching the ’88 Olympics, hoping the American ping-pong player can bring home Olympic Gold. As an adult, he becomes a two-bit performer at a no-name show in Reno, and he is so sad and pathetic he is a little amusing. But as the story progresses, he becomes more confident of his abilities and, as a result, less interesting.
Maggie Q, who was a formidable foe to Bruce Willis’ John McClain in “Live Free or Die Hard”, plays the young woman who is assigned to give Randy some training. A fierce competitor, Maggie spurns the advances of the men she plays against and is even able to karate chop a few who go too far. It is a pretty standard character for this type of ‘parody’. About halfway through the film, a lame excuse is made and Maggie gets left home and she therefore disappears from the film.
George Lopez plays Agent Rodriguez, an agent who clearly doesn’t relish the assignment or even believes it will work. As such, he seems to be playing the straight man, his one attempt at comedy is a “Scarface” rip-off he does, which is shown in the trailer. If you’ve seen the trailer, you’ve seen Lopez’s best bit. For the rest of the film, he is simply boring.
When the team arrives at Feng’s compound, they meet the requisite collection of weirdos and freaks, all of whom have been called together to play ping-pong. It sounds funnier than it is, because all of these characters have been seen before. The people behind the film (I have difficulty calling them ‘filmmakers’) don’t really try very hard to make any of them the least bit different. We have the German competitor who wears impossibly tight uniforms and speaks in a stereotypical clipped way. There is the black American muscle bound freak that makes his pecs jiggle to try to intimidate his competitors. There is the stereotypical wise Asian elder who will train the Caucasian in strange and unusual ways, with strange and unusual methods.
The problem with “Balls” is they have taken a number of ideas and characters we have seen many times, but haven’t bothered to try to make them slightly different or give a little unique twist to them. They seem to think that merely including them will make us laugh. It isn’t enough.
So, wait a few months, turn on Starz, find the inevitable showing of “Balls of Fury”, start vacuuming your carpet and you have the perfect venue to catch the few laughs this film contains.