Built almost entirely from ideas and jokes taken from other, similar recent comedies, even homaging and parodying the same source material as those films, the very best way to review Balls of Fury would probably be as some sort of elaborate math equation, with a long string of other titles connected by plus signs, minus originality, equals Balls of Fury.
As lazy and familiar as it all is, if there’s one genre that can get a way with lazy and familiar, it’s this sort of dumb comedy. Writer/director Ben Garant and writer/co-star Thomas Lennon, both of Reno 911! and The State fame (which explains all the cameos from those shows’ stars), are at least smart enough to pack the cast with gifted players and, more importantly, likeable presences.
We open during the 1988 Olympics, where pre-teen U.S. athlete Randy Daytona was embarrassingly defeated at ping pong by East German rival played by Lennon (leading to a neat Rocky IV-style U.S. vs. Communists scene). His ping pong career already over, he’s forced into semi-obscurity (like Will Ferrell and Jon Heder in Blades of Glory, or Ferrell in Talladega Nights).
Nineteen years later, he’s tubby and disheveled, and now played by Tony award-winning stage actor Dan Fogler. He’s working in a stage show at Reno, Nevada (Garant and Lennon must love the hell out of that place), when he’s approached by FBI agent George Lopez, who wants to use Randy to infiltrate a Triad archfiend Feng’s legendary ping pong tournament, which will gather the world’s greatest in one location for matches to the death (Like in Enter the Dragon, and the 4,000 movies inspired by it).
To get in shape, Randy is trained by eccentric old coot James Hong, who subjects him to ridiculous training (like in Dodgeball, Shaolin Soccer, and Blades of Glory and Talladega Knights again) while coming between our tubby protagonist and his fetching ping pong expert niece Maggie (played by Maggie Q, last seen trading blows with Bruce Willis in one of Live Free or Die Hard’s more ridiculous action scenes).
Once at the tournament, Balls of Fury seems to be on surer footing…or at, the very least, less derivative footing, borrowing more from Asian comedies than Hollywood ones, the humor getting slightly more sophisticated (the guy-getting-hit-in-the-balls jokes give way to gay panic jokes, and the making fun of Chinese jokes give way to Lopez having to play to stereotype).
It’s also when it’s revealed—to anyone who hasn’t seen a single preview, commercial or poster for the tilm—that Feng is actually Christopher Walken, walking around in a series of elaborate wigs and high-collared robes that would have given Gary Oldman’s Dracula pause.
Walken is a living sight gag, which Garant is constantly undermining by filling his mouth with stupid jokes—when you’ve got Christopher Walken dressed like that, and lazily delivering lines in oddly clipped, Walkenese delivery, you don’t need jokes. As for newcomer Fogler, he seems poised to be either a shoo-in for any future agile fat guy roles that Jack Black passes on or a decent physical comedian in his own right. If he ever gets the opportunity to do something better than walk around pretending to have a foreign object shoved up his ass or acting as if he’s just suffered a violent blow to the testicles, of course.