Balls of Fury

Movie Information

The Story: A long-retired Ping-Pong champ is chosen to enter an underground Ping-Pong tournament in order to take down an evil crime lord. The Lowdown: An overall substandard comedy with little going for it other than a few decent bits from Christopher Walken.
Score:

Genre: Ping-Pong Comedy
Director: Ben Garant
Starring: Dan Fogler, Christopher Walken, George Lopez, Maggie Q, James Hong
Rated: PG-13

The tagline for Balls of Fury calls the movie “A big comedy with tiny balls.” While I’ll take their word for it as far as that second part goes, calling the movie a “big” comedy is extremely subjective—especially when one is trying not to take the easy route and make a joke about star Dan Fogler’s (School for Scoundrels) waistline. The film comes from director Ben Garant, who cowrote the film along with Thomas Lennon. The duo’s last film, Reno 911!: Miami, might be the most obnoxiously unfunny film of the year, and they’ve also been involved in such atrocious stinkers as Taxi (2004), The Pacifier (2005) and Herby Fully Loaded (2005). Knowing what precedes it, the comparatively innocuous Balls of Fury could be considered “huge.” Of course, this isn’t to say that the movie is good. It never even flirts with being decent, but what it does do is not be as bad as it could’ve been. Judging by the talent on hand, that isn’t just big, it’s gargantuan.

The movie’s concept probably gave the writers giggle fits when they came up with it, but it’s a completely different animal in practice. Fogler plays Randy Daytona, a former Ping-Pong Olympian who choked in the gold-medal round and retired from competition after the murder of his father. Flash forward a couple of decades and Daytona has become a low-rent Ping-Pong lounge act, until the day he’s approached by the FBI to bring down the notorious crime lord Feng (Christopher Walken), who was responsible for his father’s death. From here, it’s a basic send-up of kung fu flicks—with all the entertainment and excitement value inherent in table tennis that has made the game a staple of rec rooms and basements everywhere.

The film appears to be the first salvo at making Fogler a star, though his Jack Black-lite performance makes it a singularly weak one. It’s not fair to compare the two actors simply on the basis of shared girth, but when Fogler breaks out his very Black-ian dance moves to Def Leppard, it’s impossible not to make the comparison. In his defense, Fogler has enough charisma to steer the film away from being a constant annoyance, and actually makes his character somewhat likable. But while the Black comparison may be apt, there’s also the specter of another rotund comedian, because Balls of Fury ends up feeling too much like the kind of dreck (think Beverly Hills Ninja (1997)) that Chris Farley was pumping out a decade ago.

The real star of the movie is Walken, who manages to get a few laughs out of the shoddy material. He seems to be genuinely enjoying himself in the role of his phony Fu Manchu character, and easily runs away with the film. The catch is that there isn’t much to run away with. It’s a lot like stealing an AMC Pacer. Even if you do manage to pilfer one, it’s not going to get you very far.

The jokes aim low and go for the cheap laugh every time. You’ve got your flatulence gag, your shot to the groin, a lot of broad slapstick and even a bit of

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80s irony thrown in for good measure. And that leaves Balls of Fury a completely forgettable comedy—one that I suggest you forget about seeing. Rated PG-13 for crude and sex-related humor and for language.

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17 thoughts on “Balls of Fury

  1. Dionysis

    Perhaps this is an unfair perception, but it seems that in recent years, the comedy genre has plunged to new lows. It appears that the sophomoric and crassly juvenile, along with potty jokes and the like, have replaced real humor. Granted, ‘funny’ is subjective, but the plethora of lame-brained twaddle passing as comedy seems to be the norm these days.

    At the risk of coming across like a curmudgeon, it seems a huge waste of money, film and time to churn out these wretched ‘comedies’, regardless of how many ‘name’ stars are in them. While there may be some great comedies out there, they escape my attention. I haven’t seen anything really funny since, oh, ‘Office Space’ or even before (‘My Cousin Vinnie’).

    I wonder if this is simply pandering to the results of our dumbed-down (mis)education system? Forget sublety…just throw out a barrage of mindless inanity and call it comedy.

  2. JustinSouther

    It’s funny you should mention this, because, with the prospects of THE BROTHERS SOLOMON opening this weekend, last night Ken and I were actually discussing the sorry state of comedy.

    I think a lot of it has to do with the studios simply underestimating or misunderstanding their audience, but it would be impossible to deny that this has to be more cultural than anything else. It’s so prevalent and has become the norm as far as most stand-up and television and film is concerned, that I personally can’t see it being anything else.

    You look at your Adam Sandlers and your Will Ferrells, and what you get is, as you put it, a complete lack of subtlety. Now, I would consider the funniest film of the year, and probably the past few years, as HOT FUZZ, and the thing that sets that movie apart from all of these other comedies is that they’ve taken the time to actually craft a film. Every joke has a purpose and is actually a part of the plot. And the best part, there’s a subtlety and cleverness to it all, it’s not just flatulence and gay jokes. I’m looking forward to seeing down the road, ten, twenty, or thirty years from now, if anyone will even remember TALLADEGA NIGHTS or HAPPY GILMORE.

    And I think, for me, the most curious question of all is, if these people wanted to be really funny and intelligent and subtle, could they? I mean, if Dane Cook really, really wanted to, could he make a great comedy? Do they actually have that talent in them and it’s just been conditioned out of them, or are we in some type of comedic dark age and this is the best we’ve got? I certainly don’t have the answers, but at the very least, I think it will be interesting to see where comedy heads over the next few decades.

  3. Comedy is going to go where it’s always gone. There’s always been “high comedy” and “low comedy”. It’s the societal shift that causes the “gross out” bar to constantly be raised (or lowered, depending on how you look at it).

    Jerry Lewis was funny in 1950. Is he funny now? To me, yes. To others, probably not. Same with Dane Cook. I think he is one of the worst comedians working today, but some people love him.

    Also, Happy Gilmore is a ten year old film. The fact that you are arguing that it will be forgotten and it being a decade old film sort of ruins your arguement.

  4. Ken Hanke

    OK, then move it to 70 years. DUCK SOUP (74 years old) is still remembered. Do you envision that kind of longevity for HAPPY GILMORE? I don’t — not in the least because it’s too grounded in topicality. Will anyone even know who Bob Barker was in another 60 years? I’m skeptical.

    It’s not the gross-out factor so much as it’s the fact that most modern comedy is completely devoid of structure. I certainly don’t object to gross-out or bad taste or black comedy in and of itself. Every one of those elements is present in any John Waters picture you care to name, and in general I love John Waters. Have you ever seen Tony Richardson’s THE LOVED ONE? Maybe not gross-out, but all the other elements are there — it was advertised in 1965 as “the motion picture with something to offend everybody.” The claim is almost certainly still true today. A key difference with these films is that they have a point in doing these things — they’re intended to be subversive. They’re poking holes in societal norms. Compare this to the scatter-shot gross-out stuff of something like DATE MOVIE, which has no discernible aim at all — unless being juvenile and hateful can be considered an aim.

    Sure, this always been high and low comedy. But even low comedy — take the Three Stooges (it doesn’t get much lower) — used to have a higher level of invention than the stuff you generally see today. I liked Jerry Lewis when I was a kid (I now pity my late father for being forced to take me to every re-issue of THE GEISHA BOY). I find him tiresome now, but I also find him interesting, and I admire the actual craftsmanship that went into the construction of the gags. I don’t see this in Will Ferrell or Adam Sandler.

    The best of comedy has always been a blend of the high and the low. There’s extremely clever, cerebral comedy in the Marx Bros., W.C. Fields, Mae West, the “screwball” comedies like TWENTIETH CENTURY and MY MAN GODFREY, Bing and Bob, the Preston Sturges films of the 1940s, Woody Allen,etc.. But there’s also broad comedy and jokes so low you need a mine-sweeper to find them.

  5. I do envision Happy Gilmore having longevity. Not because it’s a good movie, but because it’s a lot like an 80s movie that people cream their pants over. It’s cute, and plays into that stoner archetype that people love. The loveable loser.

    Once again, Happy Gilmore is ten years old, and even thought it isn’t a favorite, I can remember it scene for scene. I saw Annie Hall once, and while it isn’t a great example of a comedy, it’s a good movie, and I barely remember that.

    We live in a world where we value style over substance. So why wouldn’t we like a movie like Happy Gilmore? It’s dumb mindless entertainment for a dumb mindless people. We may privy ourselves to be the watchmen at the gates and commenting on the herd, but we are still somewhat part of the herd.

  6. Dionysis

    Some interesting observations here. Thanks to all. I guess I’ll sit out the ‘Happy Gilmore’ debate, as I have only seen a (mercifully) few minutes of it on television; I just don’t care for Adam Sandler. Truth is, while I do enjoy a good comedy, they seem so few and far between that I rarely even venture to a theater to see one. I do like some of the older comedies such as the Preston Sturges films, but sometimes long to see a really funny contemporary take. I just keep getting disappointed. I have not seen ‘Hot Fuzz’ but it seems I might actually enjoy it, so I’ll rent it on DVD soon.
    I have a huge collecion of movies, encompassing all genres, but am woefully light in the comedy section. A few titles would include the obscure ‘Local Hero’, the also obscure (and admittedly juvenile, but still funny) ‘Tapeheads’ with very young Tim Robbins and John Cusack, ‘Blazing Saddles’ (“can I whip this thing out?) and the British romance/comedy ‘Cold Comfort Farm’. Other than these, the pickings are slim. Maybe I can add ‘Hot Fuzz’ to my collection.

  7. Orbit DVD

    I got talked into seeing this movie last weekend at full admission price. At least the place has beer!

    If you’re racking your brain to find a funny one, here’s a few more on dvd…

    Color Me Kubrick – funny true story of a Stanley Kubrick imposter starring John Malkovich

    Confetti – British mockumentary style about weddings

    Screen Door Jesus
    Everything is Illuminated – has moments of sadness
    Me and You and Everyone Else We Know
    Stranger Than Fiction – has moments of sadness
    Big White – coal black comedy w/Robin Williams

    and of course, HOT FUZZ…

    I honestly think that a great deal of talent is moving to television, so you might want to look there as well. I’ve never seen 30 Rock, which came out yesterday on dvd, but I was laughing hysterically. There’s also both versions of THE OFFICE, CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, DEAD LIKE ME, etc etc.

    marc

  8. Dionysis

    Thanks for the suggestions, Orbit. Sounds like some good picks here. I did see ‘Stranger Than Fiction’ (I agree with you). However, I cannot tolerate anything with Robin Williams in it so I’ll pass on that. The other titles sound well worth checking out, though. It is appreciated.

  9. Orbit DVD

    This isn’t MRS. DOUBTFIRE or RV. Like Will Ferrell, Williams is capable of good work. Plus, THE BIG WHITE has a great supporting cast: Tim Blake Nelson, Giovanni Ribisi, Woody Harrelson and Holly Hunter, who steals the show from everybody.

    marc

  10. Dionysis

    Okay Mark, I give. Based upon your recommendation, I’ll check out ‘The Big White’. To be completely honest, I do think Robin Williams has turned in some good performances, only for me, they’ve been those few roles where he played a serious character. I’ve just never found him to be funny (even going back to television’s Mork and Mindy days).
    Sooooo, as mentioned, I’ll give it a go. Thanks.

  11. Ken Hanke

    I hadn’t really thought of some of the titles Marc lists as comedies in the strict sense, especially the very odd COLOR ME KUBRICK — an interesting movie (with the bonus of seeing Ken Russell as a patient in a mental hospital). It’s often funny — and often very British — but it seems to me it’s at least trying to be “more” than a comedy.

    Back to Jason’s claims for the longevity of HAPPY GILMORE, a lot of this is very subjective. I can turn the same statement around and say I’ve seen both HAPPY GILMORE and ANNIE HALL and remember very little about the former and nearly everything about the latter. Of course, the question arises as to how many times I’ve seen each. Rest assured that any Adam Sandler picture not titled PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE, I’ve been content to leave at a single viewing, while I’ve seen ANNIE HALL numerous times over the years.

    There’s also the question of when it’s reasonable to judge a film’s longevity. Jason’s comment about “well-loved 80s comedies” (I can’t think of any for myself) suggests a predisposition for things that recall one’s childhood. That’s fine in itself, but I think the acid test for how a movie will stand up down the road is whether it would feel relevant and funny to a later generation. When what I’ll loosely call my generation discovered the Marx Bros., W.C. Fields and Mae West in the 60s and early 70s, it was without any baggage. These were all movies made long before we were born that tapped into a need for something that was lacking on the film scene. They didn’t recall any well-loved movies of our youth, but supplied something missing that seemed fresh and original.

    Of course, it may also simply be that I have zero nostalgia for the 80s, which outdoes the 50s for most dismal decade I can think of. But then again, the 80s aren’t my childhood.

  12. Ken Hanke

    By the bye, Jason, I do find it odd that someone who so enjoys being a contrarian should endorse the idea of wanting to be a part of “the herd.” Do you honestly feel some kind of loss of status or whatever when you don’t like the flavor of the month “big thing?”

  13. I’m not happy about being part of the herd. I view it more as some sort of latent Nietzsche type of idea. You know, the whole “as you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back into you thing”?

    The more we try to distinguish ourselves from the herd, the more we fit right into the herd. It’s a lost cause.

    Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch “Little Man” and drink some Drano.

  14. Orbit DVD

    Out of all the movies that we have in the store, people overwhelmingly want good comedies. Unfortunately, due to the collective minds of Hollywood, we cannot always provide a good comedy to them. So we stretch the boundaries of what is considered a comedy… and this is where films like COLOR ME KUBRICK fit it. Many funny parts, but overall an engaging story.

    The past two weeks we have been given DELTA FARCE and KICKIN’ IT OLD SKOOL, two films I cannot recommend to anyone. But what I’ve discovered in my 10 years of working in video stores is that people just want entertainment. They want to shut their brains off for 90 minutes and enjoy the show. Enter BLADES OF GLORY. Will Ferrell is repeating Ricky Bobby. Jon Heder is repeating Napoleon Dynamite. But you know what? I laughed… quite a bit. Will it win awards? Nope. Is it a crowd pleaser? Sure.

    I wonder if Chaplin, the Marx Brothers et al were the Robin Williams and Jamie Kennedys of their day. Were they poo-pooed by critics? Where there critics? What happened over time to hold them in such high regard? Why isn’t BEAN deified like Tati? Will SUPERBAD be THE GRADUATE in 40 years?

    marc

  15. Ken Hanke

    I’m on my way out the door, but will quickly address whether or not the Marx Bros. and Chaplin were looked on as Robin Williams and Jamie Kennedy. The answer to that is no. Did they get bad reviews? Occasionally, sure. Who doesn’t? But you’re talking about comics who were raved about by folks like Einstein, George Bernard Shaw and T.S. Elliott. Closer equivalents would be comics of those eras like the Ritz Brothers or El Brendel. Today we’ve got their like — with the brilliant addition of flatulence and homosexual panic jokes — but we don’t have the higher end of the spectrum.

  16. Ken Hanke

    Now that I have a little more time, I’ll add that I suspect the reason Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean isn’t lionized a la Tati has much to do with the fact that Atkinson doesn’t direct himself. Myself, the mugging ruins too much of it for me to take seriously.

    Upon reflection, I suppose a case can be made that there are a few essentially comedic voices out there today — apart from Woody Allen — who do represent a higher plane of humor. I’m thinking primarily of Wes Anderson and David O. Russell, but they’re far more specialized and their appeal is limited pretty much to the art house crowd. And they very much aren’t in the “switch your brain off” mode. My personal biggest problem with so many of the current crop of comedians is the “look at me I’m being funny now” syndrome, the biggest practitioner of which is Will Ferrell, but it hovers over nearly every SNL refugee. I’ve only seen chunks of BLADES OF GLORY, but this “see how funny I am” approach killed every potential laugh for me. (As for Jon “Mouth-Breather” Heder, I simply don’t find his one-note performances funny.)

    As it stands now, even romantic comedy seems to be in the doldrums. For every decent genre example like MUSIC & LYRICS and DOWN WITH LOVE, you get ten movies like YOU, ME AND DUPREE and RUMOR HAS IT and BECAUSE I SAID SO. For that matter, even the best of this type of film today seems no match for, say, Peter Bogdanovich’s WHAT’S UP, DOC?.

    I keep trying to think of plain comedies — not comedies with a deeper purpose like I HEART HUCKABEES — of recent vintage that I’ve completely enjoyed and apart from HOT FUZZ, I’m coming up with EUROTRIP and HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE. I don’t think either could be called great films, but I own them both. There must be others that I’m not remembering. I hope.

  17. Ken Hanke

    By the way, anyone looking for some really dark and over-the-top comedy should go see SHOOT ‘EM UP at once. You might not have to check your brain at the door, but you definitely need to suspend your disbelief.

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