Universal // 2007 // 91 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Chief Justice Michael Stailey // December 18th, 2007
"It is better to die like a tiger than live like a pussy." -- Master Wong
When is a comedy not a comedy? When it's not that funny.
19 years ago, Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler) was the sports world's wunderkind, riding a natural penchant for ping-pong all the way to the world championships. Unfortunately, an embarrassing forfeit defeat left him shamed, broken, and orphaned. Now, the US Government needs his help in tracking down Master Feng (Christopher Walken), the Chinese mob lord who killed his father. In order take down the world's most elusive bad dude, Randy will need the help of a legendary ping-pong master (James Hong), his agile niece (Maggie Q), and a third rate FBI agent (George Lopez) who wants to be James Bond. Can the mad skills of one out-of-shape has-been be enough to defeat the world's greatest players in a battle to end all ping-pong battles?
I really wanted to like Balls of Fury. I was a huge fan of MTV's The State, have enjoyed what I've seen of Viva Variety and Reno 911!, and respect Thomas Lennon, Ben Garant, and their team for what they tried to do with this film. All the pieces seem to be in place. Dan Fogler is Hollywood's hottest new physical comedian, coming off a great theatrical run both Off Broadway (Joe Fearless) and On (25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee). Christopher Walken flexes his comedic muscles, as proven time and again on Saturday Night Live, satirizing himself better than anyone else possibly could. James Hong (Big Trouble in Little China), at age 78, remains at the top of his game, never missing a beat. George Lopez gets the opportunity to take his shtick from stage and television to the big screen. Maggie Q continues her butt-kicking domination of the 2007 summer box office, following up a great role in Live Free or Die Hard. And Thomas Lennon gets to create yet another completely whacked out character. On paper alone, one would think Balls of Fury might be primed to stand alongside Blazing Saddles and Austin Powers as the next great satirical comedy. Unfortunately it's not.
Comedy only works when the characters take themselves and their situation seriously. With Ball of Fury, everyone seems to be walking around with a grin on their face, as if they're all in the joke. It's not that the film's premise and dialogue aren't smart or funny. You can just see everything coming from a mile away.
Fogler and Hong share most of the laugh-out-loud moments, many of which populated the original theatrical trailer -- swatting bees, lucky cricket, and a plethora of physical gags. However they aren't enough to carry the film. When that's the case, you need a strong support system to fill in the gaps, but it's not there. Christopher Walken plays himself to great extreme but it falls flat. We've seen all this before and the shine has long since worn off. Maggie Q and Fogler share what is supposed to be the film's romantic subplot, which couldn't possibly be any less authentic. You don't believe for a moment that there's any sort of sexual tension between the two and when they do hook up you just want it to stop. Lopez gets to play secret agent man, but without any real drama to react to, it's just more shtick. Even the film's climactic showdown between Feng and Randy carries half the weight it should for it to work. It's disappointing because the film could have been so much more.
Ben Garant is not a newbie. He's directed episodes of Reno 911! and he rode herd on Lindsay Lohan in Herbie Fully Loaded. Where he misses the boat with Balls of Fury is that it plays more like a variation on Dodge Ball than it should. Think of the satire to be mined from every kung fu movie ever made. From the action and mayhem of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Chow Yun Fat, to the great samurai epics of Akira Kurosawa, Shintaro Katsu, and Masaki Kobayashi, there's enough source material to create a trilogy, let alone a single film. And yet we get blind guy prat falls, punches to the nutsack, and other 30-year old sight gags? Come on guys, you're better than that. Other choices that didn't work: Aisha Tyler (Ghost Whisperer) as Feng's female bodyguard, Mahogany; Jason Scott Lee (Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story) as a rival Chinese gang member; and a third act tournament of death that ends so abruptly you'd swear some production assistant lost several pages of the script.
However, there are a few moments that will live on once the credits roll. Randy's pseudo-Vegas act at Dave Koechner's sleazy Reno casino. Patton Oswald's cameo as a regional ping-pong champ. Cary Tagawa (Mortal Kombat) asking Maggie for directions back to the highway. And Feng's penchant for "courtesans of pleasure." Unfortunately, there just aren't enough of them to warrant a recommendation for Balls of Fury.
Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the transfer is nearly identical to its theatrical presentation. From the seedy underbelly of LA's Chinatown to the rich interiors of Feng's palace, it's a beautifully shot film, reminiscent of the many films it tries to spoof, and there's no evidence of digital tampering. No complaints either for the Dolby 5.1 surround mix, which benefits from Randy Edelman's lush score, the one thing in the film that does take itself seriously and pays off considerably. It'll also rock your receiver with the light and lilting sounds of Def Leppard, Randy's all-time favorite band.
In terms of bonus materials, Universal serves up seven deleted scenes, several of which contain the reappearance of Randy's murdered father, played by Robert Patrick (The X-Files); an alternate ending which comically sets up a sequel in true action film style; a 14-minute making-of documentary entitled "Balls Out"; and a 6-minute mockumentary on Irina Vornina, the film's fictional ball wrangler (the joke being that all the balls were computer generated). The disc is sorely lacking an audio commentary from Thomas and Ben, whose panel discussion at this summer's Comic Con, alongside Fogler and Hong, was actually funnier than the film itself. See the YouTube link under accomplices to witness the madness for yourself.
Balls of Fury is a smart comedy without a backhand. As a result, much of the humor falls flat, undermining what could have been a memorable spoof of the Kung Fu genre.
Lennon and Garant are hereby charged with offering and failing to make a good serve. Return to your comedy roots and reclaim your gifts as skilled writers.
Review content copyright © 2007 Michael Stailey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Seven Deleted Scenes
* Alternate Ending
* "Balls Out: The Making of Balls of Fury"
* "Under the Balls: The Life of a Ball Wrangler"
* Official Site
* Balls of Fury Trailer
* Balls of Fury at Comic Con