Movie News & Reviews

Balls of Fury has no game

There've been so many sports farce movies lately you kind of have toquestion 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 waskind of funny. If we made a movie like 'Dodgeball,' only instead ofdodgeball it was about ping pong, would it be five times as funny, orso funny we'd have to move to a new country on the moon to keep frombeing sued into nonexistence by the families of all the people wholaughed to death during the movie?"

Well, okay, they're probably just thinking "Hey, I've seen sportsmovies. I could probably make fun of sports movies in a way thatwould cause other people to laugh." But at this point, is that reallyenough? Shouldn't they try a little harder than throwing some quirkycharacters on top of a few moldy cliches and waiting for the comedy towrite itself?

Wait, I'll answer that: Yes. Yes they should. Unless they do thatand their movie's still funny, in which case they can do whatever theydamn well please. Sadly, unless a guy getting whanged in the crotchis as funny the fifth time as it is the first, "Balls of Fury" isn'tgoing to get you to laugh enough to fill a Ziploc bag, and in caseyou've never tried it, it only takes like three laughs to fill one ofthose.

19 years after being humiliated at ping pong in the Olympics as achild--a match that costs his father his life when he can't pay hisgambling debt--Dan Fogler is a washed-up nobody doing ping pong tricksat a third-rate stage show in Reno.

FBI agent George Lopez recruits Fogler to infiltrate the ping pongtournament of international criminal Christopher Walken, the very manwho 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 isblind master James Hong, who whips his new pupil into fighting form ina handful of days.

"Balls of Fury's" big problem is it trots out all these sports moviestandards as if it's working from a checklist rather than that it'strying to do something new and funny. Hero has tragic past and hasvowed to never return to the game that destroyed him? Check. He'sinitially rejected by his peers, but wins them over once he's bustedout his world-burning skills, including the Obligatory Love Interestwho's initially the chilliest of all? Check and double check.Inevitable tournament confrontation of the two men who brought herolow in the first place? Chopper Dave, we have check.

But the movie's got no idea what to do with these things other thansimply replaying what older movies have done and counting on that tosomehow equal comedy. All the while it clips along, too fast to everbog down, but too flimsy and uninspired to draw any laughs or turn anyof these cliches on their ears.

The exceptions are Fogler, who's constantly compared to the homelessman's Jack Black but is a gifted physical comedian with some realcharisma--here's hoping this movie and the upcoming likely crimeagainst man "Good Luck Chuck" don't kill his career before it getsstarted--and Hong, whose wise Chinese master strikes the right balanceof homage and parody to feel energetic rather than rote.

They were good enough to make me forget they never really made melaugh. I'm not one of those guys who says a comedy is hilarious andthen sits through it as stony as a moai statue, either. I laugh somuch I used to get in trouble in school just for thinking other peoplewere funny. If getting weird looks for standing there and busting upfor no apparent reason were worth a nickel, I would have severaldollars.

But "Balls of Fury" would make Jolly Old St. Nick himself look morelike Kris Kringle the Fat Man Who's Too Good to Laugh at Anything.Co-writers Thomas Lennon (who plays the secondary villain) and BenGarant (who directs) have done good work on "Reno 911" and "TheState," but here, their writing's so broad and toothless all thecameos and Walkenisms in the world aren't enough to save it from beinga weak entry in an overstuffed genre.

Grade: C-