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Balls of Fury

The concept behind Balls of Fury, the new movie from The State alums Tom Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, is a clever one. The movie takes from the brutal martial arts competition genre and combines it with probably the least threatening competitive sport, table tennis – or as the Chinese call it… Ping Pong.

In comedy this is what we call, contrast, and most of the times, it’s funny. There are a lot of funny moments in Balls of Fury, and if you’ve seen any of the trailers, you’ve pretty much seen them all. Combine this with a flimsy plot and you’ve got yourself a movie that ironically is a lot like Ping Pong – fun at first, but then gets kind of predictable.

Balls of Fury is basically an homage to Bruce Lee, in that its basic premise borrows heavily from Lee’s Enter the Dragon, and even the Lee bio pic, Dragon, and even cast Dragon star Jason Scott Lee in a role as a Chinese ping pong gangster.

Either way, it’s your typical sports competition movie. The once great champion has fallen from grace, until he’s called upon again to redeem himself and avenge the death of his father, and well, you know the rest. The exception here is that the protagonist isn’t a Kung Fu master, he’s a ping pong child prodigy with something to prove.

From the start, the problem with the movie is that it’s playing itself as straight parody and it assumes its audience is in on the joke and knows exactly what it’s trying to do. However, we all know what happens when you assume… you leave a lot of holes in your plot and then you can only hope you’re audience dismisses them as quickly as you did.

But Balls isn’t without its strengths. If you can get on board with the film, it’s a fun ride. The martial arts tournament angle has been spoofed a bunch of times, but the whole film has a farcical quality and it plays more like a Naked Gun movie instead of, say, a Jim Carrey movie. Once you get that, you can overlook the forced relationships in the film, the rushed pace, and the set up, predictable jokes that anyone can see coming from a mile away.

What saves Balls of Fury is the terrific cast. Everyone in the film is great, even George Lopez, and that’s saying a whole lot. Dan Fogler is terrific as Randy Daytona, the ping-pong shlub and star of the flick. He pulls off the lovable loser so well, that you’re immediately drawn to whatever he does. What’s also great is that he’s a fresh face. This movie could have easily been a Will Ferrell movie like Talladega Nights, but with Fogler, it’s a dawn of a new comedy era. Fogler not only pulls off the loud obnoxious, “Gwai Lo” he’s supposed to be, but he can also pull of the sadness and fear that make his character believable. Fogler is the heart of this movie and he’s a treat to watch.

Also satisfying is legendary genre actor James Hong (Big Trouble in Little China) as the mentor, Master Wong. Hong knows what kind of movie he’s in and he plays it to the fullest. I’m sure Hong has played this role over and over (Revenge of the Nerds 2, Wayne’s World 2) and in a way he’s parodying himself, but Hong has a great sense of humor and it works.

As for the rest of the cast, it’s almost everything you can expect. Chris Walken does what he does best, the creepy Fu Manchu like leader Feng who presides over the tournament of death. It’s campy, it’s funny, it’s classic Walken. George Lopez is fine as the FBI agent Rodriguez, but the majority of his laughs come from him mocking Pacino’s Scarface, so I wasn’t too impressed. Reno 911’s Tom Lennon does a fun performance as Daytona’s arch nemesis, Karl Wolfschtagg, who’s basically a cold war era German stereotype and it’s funny.

Considerable mentions include funny appearances from Aisha Tyler (Talk Soup), Diedrich Bader (The Drew Carey Show), Masi Oka (Heroes) and the always entertaining Terry Crews (White Chicks, Everybody Hates Chris). Then there’s Maggie Q.

Can there be a more alluring screen presence right now than Maggie Q? Gorgeous, intelligent, knows karate, I mean, what else can a man ask for?

In this film, Maggie Q plays, wait for it…Maggie, the hot niece of Master Wong. In the film she’s Daytona’s Ping Pong equal, and helps with his training while they have a never quite explained romantic relationship. It’s also never quite explained why if she’s Daytona’s equal why she’s not in the tournament as well. But like I said earlier, “Plot? Who Needs a Plot?”

You never quite care when she’s on the screen. It eerily got very quiet whenever Maggie was on the screen, because most of the men were holding their breath on her every move. Make sure you stay for the credits because there’s a Karaoke scene under them that shows the lovely Miss Q rocking out to a little "Pour Some Sugar on Me." After that, you might need to pour some ice cold water on your lap.

Overall, there are a lot of laughs in the movie, but that’s basically all that it is. It’s a movie with a bad plot that sets up a lot of jokes, but it’s not really a funny movie. It’s a fun time and you might like it, but like the audience I saw it with, you may not be laughing the whole time. The laughs you will get, though, will be worth your time.

Lon Lopez

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