I have a friend who loves, and I mean LOVES, table tennis...or "ping-pAWNG" as Christopher Walken says with about as much quirky conviction as he can muster in a film.
This friend's devotion to table tennis is admirable. He practices constantly, plays in tournaments regularly, seeks out training from some of the best players and coaches out there.
He's serious, I tell you.
So, believe it or not, I may be one of the very few individuals to actually say that I was looking forward to "Balls of Fury" from the moment I first heard about the film a few weeks ago.
I mean, c'mon, Christopher Walken in a film about ping-PAWNG with the tagline "A huge comedy with tiny balls."
Does low-brow comedy really get much better?
Well, yeah, fortunately it does.
"Balls of Fury" is an almost uncomfortable film with its seemingly desperate attempts to wring the comic life out of almost every ridiculous situation thrown at the screen and in the way that writers Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon ("Reno 911") create characters who somehow parody themselves even while parodying martial arts films, awe-inspiring sports flicks and a few of our beloved quirky comedies of days past.
Now, then, don't get me wrong. There is something inherently funny about Christopher Walken in this film AND he very nearly makes the film worth watching on his own. Unfortunately, he is not front and center in the film and when the film isn't centering on Walken it's centering on predictable physical gags and an unwarranted pretentiousness.
In "Balls of Fury," washed-out professional ping-pong player Randy Daytona (Who knew that the professionals had such cool names?), played with enough zest and charming self-grandiosity by Dan Fogler to claim blood relationship to the similarly roly-poly Jack Black, begins cooperating with an FBI agent (George Lopez) to bust Christopher Walken "Master Feng," a deadly ping-pong tournament.
Are you excited yet?
If the basic premise doesn't get you, how about the site of Maggie Q in short shorts as Daytona's love interest?
If neither of these things particularly excite you, then I dare say that "Balls of Fury" is likely to fare as well as the similarly quirky yet blink and you'll miss it comedy of "Hot Rod," the latest of the SNL flicks to make a minor blip at the box-office and fade quickly from theatres.
An obviously low budget film with obvious technical flubs and among the year's worst lighting, it will be interesting to see if "Balls of Fury" can muster up enough curiosity to make it an opening weekend modest hit and, perhaps, at least recoup its expenses before heading off to home video.
Garant, who also directs the film, seems to fall into the "Hot Rod," "Scary Movie" and other quirky film-of-the-month club in the way he seemingly pieces together "Balls of Fury" with this odd sense of bravado throughout the film...it's as if the filmmaker is saying "Damn, I've made myself this summer's funniest film. If you don't think so, then you just don't get it."
Maybe I don't get it, because I sure don't find it very funny.
I mean, what's funny about an overt obsession with tiny balls repeatedly slamming into presumably bigger human balls?
I mean repeatedly.
Repeatedly, I tell you.
What's funny about Garant and Lennon's continued devotion to subtle homophobia, repeated blind jokes and ethnic stereotypes?
Maybe I just don't get it, but even when they're funny the first time they do actually fall flat by the 13th time. I'm exaggerating...a tiny bit.
Despite my fondness for Jack Black, I'm acutely aware that Black has pretty much the same act he does, with only minor variations, in each film. We haven't so much seen Jack Black acting as we have seen Jack Black in Mexico, Jack Black in school, Jack Black with a big ape and Jack Black in a band. So, when I say that Fogler, a noted Broadway actor recently in the revival of "25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," can't quite work up the cinematic charm of Jack Black, it's more than just a slam...it's a slam dunk.
From the way Fogler's character is constructed, one can't help but wonder if the producers really wanted Jack Black but just plain couldn't afford him.
With Fogler's routine wearing thin quickly and Walken not really appearing until about the mid-point of the 90 minute film, "Balls of Fury" quickly runs out of comedic steam. It's reminiscent of many of Lorne Michaels' attempts to wrestle 90 minutes of humor out of those five-minute comedy sketches from Saturday Night Live.
Sometimes it works, frequently it doesn't. When it doesn't, it's downright ugly.
Still, Walken is an odd and charming choice here and, per the usual Walken, the performance seems the perfect Walken summer bookend to his wonderfully delightful turn in "Hairspray," a far more successful quirky flick.
Walken turns on his Walkenisms full force in an occasionally painful, but also downright funny routine of self-awareness and parody.
James Hong, in a supporting role, steals every scene he is in, while Lopez, not exactly known as a cinematic force, is nonetheless worthy of the film's highlight reel with his amusing "Scarface" homage.
While there have been many table tennis thrillers in the annals of cinematic history (Okay. Okay. "Forrest Gump" is pretty close to it), "Balls of Fury" is one of them.
In fact, I can easily say that "Balls of Fury" is the only table tennis comedy featuring a freakily similar to Jack Black type actor with a quirky, funny evil dude played by Christopher Walken and with Maggie Q in really hot short shorts and, for good measure, a Mexican thrown in for a reason I never could figure out.
Remember those really bad martial arts flicks? Those quirky 80's comedies that thought they were so cool, but they mostly sucked?
Here's another one.
As much as you are likely to want to head for the doors shortly after this flick ends, if not before, stay over for the cast's unexpectedly outrageous take on Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar On Me."
Fogler, production values, Garant and Lennon's script and the non-descript characters? D-.
Walken, Hong, Maggie Q's derriere, George Lopez and delightful music video? C.
"Balls of Fury" sure isn't going to win ping-PAWNG or tiny balls any new fans, but that's okay...my ever devoted table tennis lovin' friend would likely kick their asses anyway.