by Mel Valentin
What can you say about a film that spoofs Bruce Lee’s martial arts classic, "Enter the Dragon," segues into a spoof of "The Karate Kid," features Jason Scott Lee (no relation), the actor who played Bruce Lee in the 1993 biopic, in a supporting role and is centered on the unsanctioned, underground world of extreme table tennis (a.k.a. ping-pong)? Well, for one, you can say that it’s almost as consistently hilarious as the television commercials suggest. That “almost,” though, is the problem. For the first half of its 90-minute running time, "Balls of Fury" delivers on its comedic potential, often including an over-abundance of sight gags and physical humor in the same scene. Alas (and you knew there was an “alas” coming), the mirth and merriment stops cold when a surprisingly unfunny Christopher Walken, parodying himself (think William Shatner, without the funny), makes his first appearance around the halfway mark and stays for the duration.Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler), a former ping-pong prodigy (and hardcore Def Leppard fan), can’t shake the death of his father, Pete (Robert Patrick), an army sergeant, at the hands of the Chinese triads during the 1988 Seoul Olympics. Distracted by his father’s ill-timed disappearance, Randy lost the semi-final match to the uber-obnoxious Karl Wolfschtagg (Thomas Lennon). Nineteen years later, Randy ekes out a living as a novelty act performing at a dinner theater in Las Vegas. When Randy loses that gig and facing homelessness, an FBI agent, Ernie Rodriguez (George Lopez), appears and makes him an offer: go undercover in the shady world of ping-pong and help him take down an international criminal who traffics in illegal weapons and prostitution, Feng (Christopher Walken), who’s about to host an illegal ping-pong competition. Feng also killed Randy’s father, giving him much needed motivation to take Agent Rodriguez up on his offer.
"Enter the Dragon with ping-pong balls."
Randy needs to get back in the game, win a few competitive matches, and get Feng’s attention, but he’s woefully out of shape and hasn’t played professional ping-pong since he lost the semi-final match at the Seoul Olympics. Realizing that Randy needs help, Agent Rodriguez enlists the aid of the blind Master Wong (James Hong), a former ping-pong ace turned instructor and restaurant owner. As the only Caucasian at Master Wong’s school, Randy has a lot to overcome physically and mentally. That and the natural reticence from Master Wong’s beautiful niece, Maggie (Maggie Q), a pro in her own right who’s as good as any man, has when she first meets Randy. Several training sequences later, a newly confident Randy is ready to take on a local pro known only as the “Dragon.” From there, it’s on to Feng’s super-secret island retreat and Feng’s deadly competition.
As a straight-up spoof, Balls of Fury is only as good as how cleverly it sets up audience expectations based on the films it cites, only to upend them moments. And good it is, at least for the first 45 minutes as Randy seemingly steps into a parodic remake of Enter the Dragon, segues into a The Karate Kid spoof, complete with a wise master who has a confidence-boosting quip ready whenever the need arises and, of course, action-oriented scenes that riff off of Enter the Dragon’s Mortal Combat-style competition, with Randy inevitably working his way up to the big boss, Feng. Then there’s the semi-clever twist on the courtesans the villain provides the competitors on the night before the competition also lifted from Enter the Dragon. That’s all positive, if, alas, unenlightened when it comes to the clichéd depiction of Asian or (presumably) gay characters.What’s not so good, surprisingly enough, is just about every scene featuring Christopher Walken. Walken looks and sounds tired and uninspired. Playing a character that apparently takes his sartorial tips from the "Flash Gordon" serials or the "Fu Manchu" programmers of the 1930s, Walken uses his usual shtick of hemming and hawing, then speeding up his line deliveries with that unmistakable accent of his to rapidly diminishing returns. Considering that he appears halfway through "Balls of Fury," that’s a real problem. Luckily, Dan Fogler is as likeable and relatable as Walken is unwatchable (not to mention Maggie Q is easy on the eyes and athletic as well). Alas (there’s that word again), "Balls of Fury" brings the funny only half the time. By that accounting, it’s worth half the price of admission.
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originally posted: 08/29/07 18:00:00