[Screen It]

(2007) (Dan Fogler, Christopher Walken) (PG-13)

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Comedy: A former child ping-pong prodigy is recruited by the FBI to lead them to a mysterious crime figure with an obsession for the sport.
Back in the 1988 Olympics, young Randy Daytona was the hottest thing in the sport of ping-pong. Yet, when he lost to East German champion Karl Wolfschtagg (THOMAS LENNON), he unknowingly sealed the fate of his father, Sgt. Pete Daytona (ROBERT PATRICK), who placed bets on his boy with Chinese criminals.

Now 19 years later, Randy (DAN FOGLER) has been relegated to doing ping-pong tricks in a low-class, Vegas-style variety show. Thus, he's surprised when FBI Agent Ernie Rodriguez (GEORGE LOPEZ) wants to recruit him to play again. It seems that the Feds are looking to bring down Feng (CHRISTOPHER WALKEN), the leader of a Chinese crime family who was also responsible for Pete's murder in the past.

Since Feng is obsessed with ping-pong, Ernie figures that if they can get Randy invited to one of his top-secret tournaments, they'll be able to get their man. Since Randy's more than a bit rusty, however, Ernie brings him to Master Wong (JAMES HONG), the blind former ping-pong mentor to Feng. He doesn't normally train non-Chinese, but since Feng also murdered his brother, Wong and his young adult niece, Maggie (MAGGIE Q), take it upon themselves to get Randy in competition form.

That doesn't sit well with traditional-minded locals such as Siu-Foo (JASON SCOTT LEE), but Randy eventually gets up to speed and makes it into Feng's secret lair, with Wong and Ernie in tow. There, he must not only contend with Feng's Amazonian muscle, Mahogany (AISHA TYLER), and one of his male sex slaves, Gary (DIEDRICH BADER), but also an array of talented competitors, including Wolfschtagg.

With the competition literally being sudden death, Randy does his best to win and thus stay alive, all while Ernie tries to figure out what Feng is up to, and decide when to call in reinforcements.

OUR TAKE: 2.5 out of 10
Despite being a kissing cousin to the professional and recreational activity played on grass, clay and/or asphalt, table tennis has never received the recognition of its larger-scale and decidedly more famous sports mate. That not only holds true in real life, but also the movies.

In fact, and aside from any possible documentary about the sport, the only movie most people will probably think of concerning it would be "Forrest Gump." Moreover, that would be less because the title character played it at various points in the film, and more due to the special effects used to create some rather fantastic play.

The same occurs in "Balls of Fury" and even to greater outrageous extent. Yet, considering that 13 years have passed since they enhanced Forrest's game, or that such special effects are, well, no longer that "special," the result isn't as much fun, and is likely only to elicit a brief grin rather than a belly laugh.

Sadly, that also holds true for the overall film, brought to you by some of the same people responsible for both the TV and movie versions of "Reno 911!" Whereas those efforts satirized reality fair such as "Cops," writer/director Ben Garant and co-writer Thomas Lennon try to do the same here with a mixture of spoofing sports comedies and old martial arts flicks.

Of course, the plot -- loosely following Bruce Lee's "Enter the Dragon" -- is just a throwaway device upon which to hang the various jokes, gags and other humor. Considering the filmmakers' previous work with the "Reno" material (not to mention Garant also penning "Let's Go to Prison," "Herbie Fully Loaded," "The Pacifier" and "Taxi" -- the movie, not the fabulous TV show), I knew going in that the likelihood of lowbrow comedy was quite high.

Nevertheless, what's present isn't worth more than a chuckle or two, as neither the spoofing nor the other general comedy is terribly smart, creative, and/or imaginative (which even stupid comedy can be, if done right). Instead, we get material we've seen in countless other films, ranging from men being hit in the crotch, walking "funny" after something's been inserted up their rears, buff gay men actually being scaredy-cats, and the like.

It certainly doesn't help that the film can't shake the feeling of being late to the game in terms of using sports for comedies, or that it comes off like a mediocre to lame "Saturday Night Live" skit blown up to feature length. I'll admit to knowing nothing about its history, but it comes off like an offering that was written for the likes of Will Ferrell or Ben Stiller and was turned down, or is simply trying to capitalize on what those two have done with similar material.

With little in the way of a good script, the likes of Dan Fogler in the lead role, George Lopez as his FBI accompaniment and Christopher Walken -- as the decidedly American leader of a Chinese crime triad with a love of ping-pong and a wardrobe discarded by Liberace and/or Elton John from his 1970s days -- can't do anything with their characters. That's especially true for the usually charismatically whacky Walken who feels the most wasted here.

James Hong and Maggie Q fair a little better as a ping-pong master and his protégé niece, but writer Lennon (as an East German competitor), Aisha Tyler (as a blow dart happy dominatrix) and Diedrich Bader (portraying a male sex slave) have less luck. Most disappointing, however, is Jason Scott Lee as a local tough guy, not because of his work here, but because he showed so much promise playing Bruce Lee long ago in "Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story" and then didn't evolve into the star he seemed destined to become.

One is apt to think of such things since the dearth of laughs is far too obvious for one to enjoy what's offered. Good for just a random grin here and a lone chuckle there, "Balls of Fury" rates as just a 2.5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 27, 2007 / Posted August 29, 2007

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