Balls of Fury
I’m pissed off.
A few hours have now passed since I finished watching 2007’s Balls of Fury, and I’m still angry about how bad was it. And that’s really saying something, because I went into the movie with absolute assurance that that it would actually be no good. When the title of your movie is a stupid testicle pun that nobody over the age of twelve could possibly find clever, you’re not setting my expectations very high. Yet here I sit, low though my expectations were, totally befuddled at the steaming pile of crap that I was subjected to today. This isn’t a movie like American Anthem where the film was crippled by a stupid idea but at least gave the appearance that everyone involved was at least trying to present a decent movie, dismal failure that it was. This isn’t a movie like The Grey, where a filmmaker’s unfamiliarity with reality was hard-coded into a movie that at least thought it was respecting its audience. No, this is something far worse.
The problem with Balls of Fury, is that it’s a parody that doesn’t have any respect for its subject matter. As such it almost comes across as a sort of avant garde parody of a parody which, consequently, isn’t funny at all. It’s disrespectful, but not in a fun, irreverent way. It feels more like the wimpy kid on the playground who grows 3 inches over the summer, then comes back and bullies the weird foreign kid. It’s only a movie, and a broad comedy at that, so the filmakers might be able to get away with it were it the least bit clever but (with one exception) it’s not. The best jokes are flat and entirely predictable, the rest are just plain stupid.
The movie tells the story of Randy Daytona played by Dan Fogler, an All-American Ping Pong Prodigy until everything goes horribly wrong in the Olympic semi-final match at the 1988 Seoul games. Years later he’s recruited by the FBI to enter a sort-of Mortal Kombat of ping pong to track down the bad guy. One area where the film exceeded my expectations was with Fogler’s performance, when I sat down to watch the movie, I expected I’d be spending a good chunk of this review criticizing the otherwise obscure and not particularly talented actor in the lead of a major theatrical release. To his eternal credit Fogler clearly realized that this was his shot at a big break and brings real effort and enthusiasm to his character. Reflecting back, as much as I hate this movie, I kind of like Randy Daytona.
This is far more than I can say for Christopher Walken, who, as the villainous Feng. Walken, to his credit, gets into costume and says his lines in front of the camera, before, presumably walking immediately over to the studio offices to collect his check. Because while he certainly wasn’t bad I don’t think I’ve ever seen a clearer case of a talented actor just phoning it in for a payday than Walken did here. Not that he’s given anything to work with, but it’s obvious that not one shit was given on his part.
George Lopez is boring and unconvincing as FBI Agent Rodriguez, but then he’s a comedian not really an actor, and is given very little to work with here, so it’s hard to blame him. I did, however, enjoy Diedrich Bader as Gary the Courtesan of Pleasure. It helped that he was part of the one decent joke in the film. When, upon arriving at the big ping pong tournament of death, Randy is offered the services of one of Feng’s courtesans, only to have it turn out they’re all dudes. This one I didn’t see coming, and I thought it was a well executed gag.
On some level, I feel a little bit bad about coming down so hard on a movie that fully intends to be a stupid movie. This movie intends to be an over the top of Ping Pong as a competitive sport, of sports movies in general and (to a lesser extent) of martial arts movies. Unfortuantely, the film doesn’t display an underlying respect or understanding of the topic being parodied, and that leaves it feeling quite mean-spirited. In fact, having seen the movie, I’ve come up with the following brief list of things I’m left believing the filmmakers legitimately might hate:
The Olympic Games
People who paid to see this move.
And most clearly…
The studio head who gave this film the “green light.”
In some ways this movie feels like it was pitched, half as a joke, as an ultra-low-budget affair, then some studio exec actually liked it and signed of on a mid-sized budget, leaving the writers the unfortunate task of actually having to make the movie. Furthermore, it seems like they decided to teach said studio exec a lesson by producing the stupidest most half-assed waste of money they could. I could probably write up another scenario with “Eric the Film Executive” describing this scenario, but quite frankly, I’ve already spilled more virtual ink over this abortion of a movie than it deserves, so I won’t.
In the past I’ve really enjoyed projects from the people responsible for this movie. I really enjoyed Reno 911, but after seeing what writer Thomas Lennon and Writer/Director Robert Ben Garant churned out here, I’m going to enjoy those repeats a little bit less, and that’s too bad.
Do yourself a favor, avoid seeing Balls of Fury.