Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"Balls of Fury" -- * 1/2

“Balls of Fury” is likely to dismissed as “stupid” by many, but “stupid” isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it comes to comedy. The problem with this “extreme ping-pong” comedy is not that it’s stupid (which it certainly is), but that it’s a lazy, pedantic movie with just barely enough funny moments to fill up the length of a movie trailer. If this weren’t bad enough, these moments are entirely attributed to actors whose roles amount to one-scene cameos. Without the contributions of Patton Oswalt, Terry Crews and Diedrich Bader, “Balls of Fury” would be a strictly laugh-free affair.

To give the movie credit, it has its one funny joke/idea: a “Karate Kid” parody by way of ping-pong, given a tough-guy martial arts setting. However, that one joke is all the movie has, and doesn’t even offer any particularly funny one-liners or sight gags to go with it. I have a feeling the movie will play best with 9-12 year old boys who haven’t yet seen other “stupid” comedies made by people with a greater concept of what’s funny (e.g.: Adam McKay, the Farrelly Brothers, David Wain, even Todd Phillips).

These are filmmakers who actually attempt jokes, rather than simply showing someone getting kicked in the groin, or implying characters are gay and “gross.” It’s difficult to imagine anyone involved with “Balls of Fury” thought they were making anything particularly hilarious or original. In fact, I read the script a year or so ago, and they seem to have actually taken out the few jokes that worked.

What seems to be fueling most of the marketing of “Balls” is the presence of Christopher Walken as the film’s sadistic, homosexual villain, Master Feng. Walken completists should know going in that he doesn’t make his first appearance till well past the movie’s halfway point, and that despite his amusing Geisha-esque get-up, this is a miserable performance. Walken’s been doing self-parody for ages now, but he plays this as if he’s doing an imitation of someone doing an imitation of himself; it’d be a fascinating case study if it didn’t feel so uninspired. Rather than making me titter—which Walken could do with a raise of an eyebrow—hearing him utter lines like “Okay dokey artichokey” and “I bid you toodles” just seemed shameless and pandering, and made me angry that the filmmakers were so lazily relying on the actor’s trademark quirk.

The film’s real lead is Tony Award winner Dan Fogler as frizzy-haired Def Leppard aficionado Randy Daytona. Fogler isn’t terrible, but he really doesn’t have the presence of a leading man, and after his very funny and endearing stage turn in “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” this comes as a disappointment. “Balls,” as well as the trailer for “Good Luck Chuck” seem to indicate that he might turn out to be a strictly irritating film presence, but we’ll wait and see.

“Balls of Fury’s” trailer proclaims it as “From the makers of ‘Reno 911!’”—writers/director Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant—but that’s really not saying much. While “Reno 911!” is frequently funny, take a look at every other script by these guys: “Taxi,” “The Pacifier,” “Herbie Fully Loaded,” “Let’s Go to Prison,” “Night at the Museum.” It’s become clear that “Reno’s” success is due to the actors’ improvisational skills, not these guys’ scripting abilities. “Balls of Fury” suffers from being wildly overscripted, with lame, flat gags at every turn. Clearly no one is improvising here, and almost nobody seems to be having any fun.

The exception to that rule would be the legendary James Hong. Even though forced to play horrible “blind guy” gags and Asian clichés, the 78-year-old gives it his all, and seems to be one of the few cast members really trying and/or enjoying himself. George Lopez and Maggie Q put in supporting roles as well, but make little impression besides Lopez’s sequence aping “Scarface.”

I wish I could recommend “Balls of Fury” for the Oswalt, Crews and Bader cameos, but they’re really not worth sitting through the rest of “Balls’s” 80 minutes to get to. With “Superbad” and “The Simpsons Movie” still playing, and other better-looking comedies on the horizon, I would advise, at best, you wait for “Balls” to premiere on Comedy Central a couple years from now.


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