REVIEW: Balls of Fury [2007]

Score: 4/10 | ★ ½

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 90 minutes | Release Date: August 29th, 2007 (USA)
Studio: Rogue Pictures
Director(s): Robert Ben Garant
Writer(s): Thomas Lennon & Robert Ben Garant

“I’m going to Disneyland!”

With the appropriately titled book Writing Movies for Fun and Profit: How We Made a Billion Dollars at the Box Office and You Can, Too! under their belts, one could easily make the case for Balls of Fury being Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon‘s cornerstone in screenwriting profiteering. A sports redemption tale set inside the seedy underbelly of elite ping-pong, the premise is laughable as a comedy skit let alone a feature length film. But this is what Garant and Lennon—comedians and creators of “The State” and “Reno 911!”—do best. They’ve made a career of playing the fool and laughing all the way to the bank as result.

Strip away its Mortal Kombat/Enter the Dragon/Bloodsport fight to the death subplot and Balls of Fury becomes eerily similar to 2007’s other absurd sports comedy, Blades of Glory. Centering on young Olympic pong wunderkind Randy Daytona, we watch his tumble from greatness through a prologue depicting an inability to perform under pressure. Unable forget the mysterious Triad members in the crowd accompanying his gambler father (Robert Patrick), the would-be gold medalist is embarrassed in front of the entire world by German challenger Karl Wolfschtagg (Lennon) after falling with a concussion. A laughing-stock who implicitly caused his Dad’s death, Daytona (Dan Fogler) grows-up into the sweaty, overweight dinner party novelty we meet a couple decades later. A tragedy of a man whose only pleasure is banking ping-pong balls off bystanders’ heads, an opportunity for atonement finally comes via the arrival of FBI Agent Rodriguez (George Lopez).

Goofy plot twists and turns ensue as we discover Triad leader Feng (Christopher Walken) used to be a ping-pong prodigy himself. Once the star pupil of Master Wong (James Hong), Feng’s drive for power found him kicked out of the school and on a path towards the dark side. The key to the FBI earning a huge international weapons bust, Rodriguez’s plan involves Randy getting back onto the circuit so he can infiltrate an illegal, no-holds-barred single elimination tournament on Triad soil. Enlisting the now blind and cranky Hong’s expertise, Daytona begins his training to eventually land a golden paddle invitation from Feng’s right-hand, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. But while the generally good-natured ‘athlete’ loves the fight so he can obnoxiously gloat after victory, the first of his opponents to get a deadly blow dart in the neck causes him to realize he may be in over his head.

Sadly, an unfortunate mistake on behalf of the marketing team—especially for those who shelled out dough to see it in the theater—neuters the inspired casting of Walken. Garant and Lennon shield Feng’s identity for the first third of the film, describing him as a reclusive Asian warlord who may or may not look like George Takei. So, the reveal of Walken’s very Caucasian appearance and eccentric verbal cadence has the potential to be ‘s grandest laugh of all. With a huge advertising push utilizing the actor’s involvement for hopes of a profit, however, his ubiquitous face plastered over all materials subverted the joke into nothing more than a knowing giggle. A real shame, the rest of the film’s by-the-numbers progression could have used such a surprise to bolster brief cameos from Patton Oswalt, Terry Crews, and David Koechner spicing things up.

That’s not to say the rest of the cast doesn’t add to the comedy their stewards have written. In fact, actors Hong and Lopez are pretty fun in roles that play to stereotypes as well as cheesiness. Aisha Taylor saunters in with a tongue-in-cheek sense of superiority that renders her Mahogany an aloof assassin you sometimes forget is lurking in the background; Maggie Q shows off her martial arts skill and beauty as a throwaway love interest with a brilliant pong introduction against four or five adversaries; and “The Drew Carey Show’s” Diedrich Bader shines in a role I’ll let you experience for yourself considering his occupation brings along multiple jokes as the movie continues. Even Jason Scott Lee elevates a second-tier villain role by portraying it with a smile and over-the-top demeanor.

Besides Walken’s ability to turn every role into gold with a bottomless wealth of facial expressions, the real draw becomes Fogler. Perfectly elastic to engage at the table for some computer-generated ping-pong as well as partake in the numerous pratfalls spanning falls and genital bashing, his out-of-place Randy Daytona embodies the cockiness necessary to survive the evils at work. So, while convenient plot points like fast-tracked love and left-field ambidexterity mix with the eye-rolling antics of electro-shock pong vests and Lennon’s hilarious German accent, Fogler grounds the work with his oaf of an everyman. Rarely brave, determined, or serious, we are able to pull for him as his insecurities help the artifice of an undercover job crumble around him. We’d do no better ourselves in the situation, so it’s great to watch him stumble in our place.

But while the performances and premise’s sheer craziness help Balls of Fury end up more watchable than initially expected, they can’t quite save it. Great for laughs in a sure to be—and is—cult classic way, I can’t see it as anything more than novelty. Garant and Lennon know their audience and cater to it well considering they’re able to sustain the work with assistance from casual viewers interested enough to risk a potential train wreck. There’s something to be said about ‘original’ comedy—whether good or bad—in an age of Scary Movie spoofs dumbing down America to the point of disgrace. And while I generally want more in the way of entertainment, a good throwaway laugh will always be a welcome distraction. It’s also better than the aforementioned Blades of Glory, so congratulations on beating the Will Ferrell machine.

[1] Dan Fogler as Randy Daytona in Ben Garant drama comedy Balls of Fury – 2007
[2] Christopher Walken star as Feng in Balls of Fury. Photo Credit: Gemma La Mana, SMPSP. © 2006 Rogue Pictures. All rights reserved.
[3] Thomas Lennon in in Balls of Fury

One Thought to “REVIEW: Balls of Fury [2007]”

  1. BF

    This is a hilarious movie if you’re just in the mood for a goofy comedy. I’m a big fan of Christopher Walken and he never disappoints. If you like the movie and want to test you knowledge try this quiz I scored 7 out of 10, so I think I need to watch it again.

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