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such a nasty woman | by maryann johanson

Balls of Fury (review)

Tiny Balls

Oh, yes, this is the movie that’s been advertised — har har — as being the one about “tiny balls.” See, it’s one a them dubble on-tond-drays, cuz it’s a movie about ping pong and it’s a movie about… well, are we supposed to think that the movie is about testicularly challenged men? That would be weird.
Funnily enough, though — and it’s the only thing funny about this dreadful excuse for a comedy — the movie itself has tiny balls. It’s got no nerve, no guts, no daring… no balls. It does have a lot of ethnic stereotyping, the lazy screenwriter’s go-to cliché when he can’t think of anything actually funny. Oh, and it also has multiple crotch injuries, the lazy screenwriter’s other go-to cliché. It has a fat guy who is supposed to be funny because he’s fat, and a foul-mouthed elderly man who is supposed to be funny because he’s a foul-mouthed elderly man. It has moments of humiliation revolving around suggestions of gay sex, which are supposed to be funny because they suggest that some men like to have sex with other men, as if this were a newsflash. But there’s nothing actually, you know, funny.

The whole thing is a one-joke pony, and the one joke has worn out its already tepid welcome by about 15 minutes into the movie. The joke is this: What if ping-pong were an Olympic sport? The joke is on the filmmakers, though — ping-pong has, in fact, been an Olympic sport since 1988. (I won’t mention the names of the two screenwriters, one of whom also directed the film, because they are also responsible for some of the worst movies of recent years, like The Pacifier and Taxi and they don’t need to be embarrassed any more than they already are.) Or maybe the joke is: What if some people took ping-pong so seriously that it was a matter of life and death to them?

Well, those people would be idiots, and that’s what we have here. Former child ping-pong star Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler: School for Scoundrels) crashed and burned at the Olympics way back when, but now he’s got a chance to redeem himself when the FBI asks him to go undercover at an illegal underground life-or-death ping-pong tournament run by a mysterious crime boss. That makes it sound a lot more coherent than it is, actually. The threadbare plot just barely concerns itself with Randy’s training to get back in top form, which he does with Master Wong (James Hong) and his granddaughter, Maggie (Maggie Q: Live Free or Die Hard, Mission: Impossible III) — athletic training, it seems, requires a Yoda-esque old man who sports vulgar non sequiturs likening ping-pong to an old prostitute on top of a lot of philosophical claptrap so blatantly stolen from Star Wars (where it made more sense) that George Lucas should sue. To be fair, though, all the training stuff allows Fogler to shake his flabby body around in desperately unfunny attempts to 1) parody sports-training montages, and 2) make us laugh at how ridiculous too-tight T-shirts look on him.

It gets worse, though: I suspect that Randy’s “romance” with Maggie, which may be the most forced coupling in the history of cinema, is not meant to make us laugh, that it is meant to charm us. But that’s just one more cheap, ugly, stupid thing in a movie so replete with cheap, ugly, and stupid that it could hire some out and still be a disaster.

The only aspect of Balls of Fury that is even remotely watchable is Christopher Walken (Hairspray, Man of the Year) as Feng, the ping-pong-mad crime boss. But it’s just sad, too: he highlights how shoddy everything else around him is, which makes you take enormous pity on him. What was he thinking, degrading himself by agreeing to appear in this? What was I thinking degrading myself by watching it? We all need a mindwipe to erase the indignity.

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MPAA: rated PG-13 for crude and sex-related humor, and for language

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
  • “What was he thinking, degrading himself by agreeing to appear in this?”

    Have you been following Walken’s career over the last few years? He loves playing ridiculous characters in campy movies, no matter how bad they are, and he always is fun to watch even when the movie is a disaster. I mean, come on: Gigli?

    My brother’s big into Ping-Pong, which means he might go see this and I might go along. I’d been hoping against hope that it might turn out to be good, although the commercials made that look unlikely. Thanks for warning me, though: now if I do end up going, I’m prepared to watch it on the MST3K level, which can be enjoyable in its own right.

  • amanohyo

    I wouldn’t be caught dead at this movie, but for those in search of tiny balls that are more entertaining, the 2002 Japanese film Ping Pong is actually okay. Corny and predictable (and a little testosterony), but it does a good job of bringing the manga to life and the special effects are well done. However, I really can’t think of any other movie about Ping Pong that’s watchable. Come to think of it, I can’t think of any other movie about Ping Pong, period.

    Does this movie even go into any cursory detail about the rules and techniques of Ping Pong (a la Dodgeball)? Or is the sport that is being ridiculed completely arbitrary in the script?

  • Drave

    I am ashamed to admit that, even though I’ve seen the trailer a good three or four dozen times in front of movies this year, Christopher Walken saying “Represent” at the end still makes me laugh every single time.

  • Kevin

    Ping-pong being an Olympic sport isn’t supposed to be a joke: the movie begins at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, as in reality. The joke is that they’re remaking Enter the Dragon while replacing the kung-fu by ping-pong. They do indeed beat that joke to death, though.

  • MaryAnn

    Have you been following Walken’s career over the last few years?

    Yes, and even by that measure, he’s embarrasing himself here.

    Ping-pong being an Olympic sport isn’t supposed to be a joke

    No, the joke is that it’s treated at the Olympics with the same kind of enthusiasm as, say, figure skating or ice hockey.

    Or is the sport that is being ridiculed completely arbitrary in the script?

    The sport itself isn’t really being ridiculed, but yes, it could have been any sport that isn’t wildly popular. Tiddlywinks, perhaps.

  • Joe

    Oh I know you didn’t just trash on my TiddlyWinks!

  • MaryAnn

    Not at all. It is, however, a simple, objective fact that Tiddlywinks is not wildly popular. That’s all I was saying.

  • Joanna

    Maggie Q is in this? Good lord, I might cry. Does she have gambling debts or something?

  • Christopher Walken sure does looks like he’s having a good time though…

  • MaryAnn

    With what they’d have to be paying Walken to appear in this (or in anything, I imagine), you’d have a good time too, probably. :->

  • Neely OHara

    What I don’t understand is that Lennon and Garant are so consistently hilarious in their work with Reno 911 (I haven’t seen The State, but I hear they were great in that as well). I had had high hopes that their TV comedy skills would translate well to movies, but I guess not. I suppose that knowing they were behind Taxi and The Pacifier (which I haven’t seen) should have been enough to warn me off.

  • Josh

    Actually, an old screen writing friend of mine has told me that Christopher Walken will work relatively cheap and do almost anything. This was a few years back though and I don’t know if anything changed after Wedding Crashers.

  • MaryAnn

    Lennon and Garant are so consistently hilarious in their work with Reno 911

    Judd Apatow was so great when he did TV too, and we know how I feel about his movies.

    TV and film are two very different entities. TV is much heavier on character, and that can make all the difference.

  • Grant

    I suspect Walken is an actor in the vein of Michael Caine… he just really likes to work, so he’s not going to price himself out of a job.
    Also, I’d be willing to bet he gets a kick out of the cult following he’s acquired over the years, particularly since the Fatboy Slim “Weapon of Choice” video.

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