There've been so many sports farce movies lately you kind of have to question the motivation of whoever's still making them.
Say you're sitting down to write the script for "Balls of Fury." What's going through your head? "Hey, remember 'Dodgeball'? That was kind of funny. If we made a movie like 'Dodgeball,' only instead of dodgeball it was about ping pong, would it be five times as funny, or so funny we'd have to move to a new country on the moon to keep from being sued into nonexistence by the families of all the people who laughed to death during the movie?"
Well, okay, they're probably just thinking "Hey, I've seen sports movies. I could probably make fun of sports movies in a way that would cause other people to laugh." But at this point, is that really enough? Shouldn't they try a little harder than throwing some quirky characters on top of a few moldy cliches and waiting for the comedy to write itself?
Wait, I'll answer that: Yes. Yes they should. Unless they do that and their movie's still funny, in which case they can do whatever they damn well please. Sadly, unless a guy getting whanged in the crotch is as funny the fifth time as it is the first, "Balls of Fury" isn't going to get you to laugh enough to fill a Ziploc bag, and in case you've never tried it, it only takes like three laughs to fill one of those.
19 years after being humiliated at ping pong in the Olympics as a child--a match that costs his father his life when he can't pay his gambling debt--Dan Fogler is a washed-up nobody doing ping pong tricks at a third-rate stage show in Reno.
FBI agent George Lopez recruits Fogler to infiltrate the ping pong tournament of international criminal Christopher Walken, the very man who killed Fogler's dad. After nearly two decades out of competition, the only man who can get Fogler in shape in time for the tourney is blind master James Hong, who whips his new pupil into fighting form in a handful of days.
"Balls of Fury's" big problem is it trots out all these sports movie standards as if it's working from a checklist rather than that it's trying to do something new and funny. Hero has tragic past and has vowed to never return to the game that destroyed him? Check. He's initially rejected by his peers, but wins them over once he's busted out his world-burning skills, including the Obligatory Love Interest who's initially the chilliest of all? Check and double check. Inevitable tournament confrontation of the two men who brought hero low in the first place? Chopper Dave, we have check.
But the movie's got no idea what to do with these things other than simply replaying what older movies have done and counting on that to somehow equal comedy. All the while it clips along, too fast to ever bog down, but too flimsy and uninspired to draw any laughs or turn any of these cliches on their ears.
The exceptions are Fogler, who's constantly compared to the homeless man's Jack Black but is a gifted physical comedian with some real charisma--here's hoping this movie and the upcoming likely crime against man "Good Luck Chuck" don't kill his career before it gets started--and Hong, whose wise Chinese master strikes the right balance of homage and parody to feel energetic rather than rote.
They were good enough to make me forget they never really made me laugh. I'm not one of those guys who says a comedy is hilarious and then sits through it as stony as a moai statue, either. I laugh so much I used to get in trouble in school just for thinking other people were funny. If getting weird looks for standing there and busting up for no apparent reason were worth a nickel, I would have several dollars.
But "Balls of Fury" would make Jolly Old St. Nick himself look more like Kris Kringle the Fat Man Who's Too Good to Laugh at Anything. Co-writers Thomas Lennon (who plays the secondary villain) and Ben Garant (who directs) have done good work on "Reno 911" and "The State," but here, their writing's so broad and toothless all the cameos and Walkenisms in the world aren't enough to save it from being a weak entry in an overstuffed genre.