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Anyone for Table Tennis?,
Even if the title weren't a double entendre, "Balls of Fury" would still be a funny movie. I suppose it's no wonder that something so unnecessary can still be enjoyable; mindless comedies are sometimes a welcome diversion. This isn't to say that all mindless comedies are good. A year ago saw the release of "Beerfest," a film I recommended only for the thrill of watching an awful film trying to work and failing every step of the way. Unlike that film, "Balls of Fury" has actual ambition to be funny, not just through juvenile humor, but also through character development, setting, and plot. This movie is by no means a masterpiece, and I suspect that it will be forgotten fifty years down the line. But for all intents and purposes, it still accomplished its goal of making the audience laugh.
The film opens in 1988, when twelve-year-old Ping Pong prodigy Randy Daytona (Brett DelBuono) competes at the summer Olympics. His crushing defeat put an end to a future in professional Ping Pong. It also resulted in the death of his father (Robert Patrick), who unwisely made a bet with an underground Chinese faction. We see the result of Daytona's misfortune when we flash forward to present day: he's reduced to doing Ping Pong tricks in a Reno lounge act. Daytona (now played by Dan Fogler) has clearly let himself go; he's overweight, unkempt, and generally unconnected with his audience (most of which don't seem to know that he's on stage).
But things begin to change with FBI agent Ernie Rodriguez (George Lopez) approaches him with a mission: To infiltrate the secret world of underground Ping Pong and find a ruthless weapons dealer known only as Feng. In order to prepare for his mission, Daytona is taken to Chinatown and introduced to Master Wong (James Hong), a blind restaurant owner who coaches Ping Pong players in his spare time. Daytona also meets Wong's niece, Maggie (Maggie Q), a woman whose driving force is equal parts Ping Pong and martial arts. Both of these traits are appropriately overplayed, as seen when she's matched against many players at once; not only does she hit every ball that flies across the table, she also answers the phone to take an order. When the game is over, she fights them all. Why this was deemed necessary, I have no idea, but I suppose analyzing it would be pointless.
After intense training, and after winning a game against The Dragon (a Chinese girl no more than nine), Daytona finally gets Feng's attention and is invited to compete in his tournament, which is held somewhere deep in the jungles of Central America. Upon their arrival, Daytona, Wong, and Rodriguez finally meet the elusive Feng (Christopher Walken), a man who couldn't be less Asian even if he tried. This, of course, is part of the joke, as is his appearance. His ornate robes, delicate hairdo, and pasty makeup give him a look that's incredibly over the top; at one point, Wong wonders if Feng still dresses in clothes from Elton John's garage sale.
The climactic tournament scenes pit Daytona against the world's best Ping Pong champions. This includes Karl Wolfschtagg (Thomas Lennon), an arrogant German who claims to practice nude in front of a mirror (I think it's safe to take his word for it). He also defeated Daytona at the 1988 Olympics. In a plot device perfectly suitable for a comedy of this sort, Daytona can now show his arch nemesis what he's capable of. But he has to be careful; all players are subjected to Sudden Death, meaning they will be killed if they lose. I won't say how the rest of the film plays out, but I will say this; if you're into these kinds of movies, then how it plays out will most likely be the last thing on your mind.
I don't know if I've been describing a film anyone would want to see. As I've already said, this is a mindless comedy, a silly parody free from anything even remotely enlightening or meaningful. But I'd by lying if I said that I didn't find it funny. Not hysterical, mind you, but funny nonetheless. Consider a moment when a riddle engraved on a golden Ping Pong paddle is examined: Maggie translates the Chinese characters into English, after which Daytona gives an impressive interpretation of it's meaning. But logical thinking had nothing to do with it; he was only reading the back of the paddle, which explained the riddle in English.
If that joke doesn't do it for you, then maybe you'd prefer Daytona and a male courtesan playing Boggle, or a cameo by Patton Oswalt as an asthmatic Ping Pong champion. Whatever suits your fancy, "Balls of Fury" is sure to deliver on some level, which is just as much a relief as it is a bizarre thing to say. I say this because comedic escapism is an indulgence, like eating a big slice of chocolate cake after weeks of dieting. "Balls of Fury" is to audiences as cake is to someone on a diet. Enjoy sparingly.