Balls Of Fury

Balls Of Fury

***1/2

Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Balls Of Fury is a simple film. It's not a classic of cinema, true, but it's so committed to its premise that it cannot help but charm.

The pitch is straight-forward enough: take the tropes of a kung fu picture, and replace chop socky with table tennis. As a notion it's not without strength, and, to be fair, it's also a useful test to determine if you will like this film. If the thought of the hyperkinesis of Bruce Lee translated into the movement of a rubber-padded plywood oblate circle doesn't amuse, Balls of Fury isn't for you. If it at least raises a smile, however, it's worth a shot.

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Ben Fogler is Randy Daytona, a former ping pong prodigy reduced to a novelty act in a seedy casino in Reno. His fall from grace at the 1988 Seoul Olympics is well handled. Brett DelBuono as young Randy manages not only a convincing similarity to Fogler's terrifying tonsure but to convincingly interact with Robert Patrick as his well-meaning problem gambler father.

Written by Reno 911 alumni Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant (who also directs), Balls Of Fury fits four square into a trend towards dim comedy. This is much gentler than films like Napoleon Dynamite and Hot Rod, not least because Randy is a hero, rather than a mere protagonist.

Here, he's got the full arc, from wunderkind to washed up wreck to winner, with a love interest in the form of Maggie Q, a blind mentor played by James Hong, and, thanks to the FBI's Agent Ernie Rodriguez, a chance to shine. The G-Man is played by George Lopez, who brings a genuine flair to what even he admits is a backup plan to a backup plan, getting Randy into a secret tournament to get closer to an international arms trader, the mysterious Feng. Feng, obviously, is played by Christopher Walken, aided and abetted by Aisha Taylor as his majordomo, and by a succession of fabulous outfits. Then, of course, there's Randy's childhood nemesis, Karl Wolfschtagg, the GDR's finest ping pong player, played by writer Thomas Lennon. As he had a hand in the scripting, it's perhaps inevitable that he's got many of the best lines.

The film abounds with references and nods, primarily to the work of Bruce Lee, the kung fu canon, and the Bond films, but it's never grating. These are homages from fans, rather than knowing winks to the audience. Yes, they're sometimes silly, yes, they're sometimes ridiculous, but they're so genial, so gentle, that they can't help but elicit a smile.

In truth, it's this gentle tone that works against Balls Of Fury. It is genuinely amusing, from the presence of Ronald and Nancy Reagan to the terrifying prospect of 'The Dragon', an underground ping pong legend with a Dora The Explorer rucksack, but it's rarely laugh out loud funny. It's totally committed to humour - one joke relating to secret tracking devices just keeps going, and the sequence where the FBI try to make sense of Feng's mysterious invitation is brilliantly handled.

Then there's Feng himself - even when he's just larking about, Christopher Walken is still Christopher Walken. He's got the right mix of camp whimsy and menace to have a harem of duped dudes as his courtesans (including Diedrich Bader, fresh from voicing Tank Evans in Surf's Up) but also to be selling see-through weaponry to the North Koreans. On top of this there's his love of ping pong - his private table, with its electrocution vests and gallery of fallen players, is both ludicrous and chilling.

The credits include what appears to be footage from the film's wrap party, a karaoke monstrosity with a variety of silly duets. It's clear that fun was had making Balls Of Fury, and, if you're willing to accept its central conceit, it's undoubtedly fun to watch.

Reviewed on: 25 Dec 2007
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Balls Of Fury packshot
A washed-up former ping pong star infiltrates a suspicious competition on behalf of the FBI.
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Director: Robert Ben Garant

Writer: Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant

Starring: Dan Fogler, Christopher Walken, George Lopez, Maggie Q, James Hong, Terry Crews, Robert Patrick, Diedrich Bader, Aisha Tyler, Thomas Lennon

Year: 2007

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: US

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