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Balls of Fury DVD Review

Balls of Fury movie poster Balls of Fury

Theatrical Release: August 29, 2007 / Running Time: 90 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Robert Ben Garant / Writers: Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant

Cast: Dan Fogler (Randy Daytona), Christopher Walken (Feng), George Lopez (Agent Ernie Rodriguez), Maggie Q (Maggie Wong), James Hong (Master Wong), Robert Patrick (Sgt. Pete Daytona), Aisha Tyler (Mahogany), Thomas Lennon (Karl Wolfschtagg), Diedrich Bader (Gary), Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Mysterious Asian Man), Jason Scott Lee (Siu-Foo), Terry Crews (Freddy "Fingers" Wilson), Patton Oswalt (The Hammer), David Koechner (Rick The Birdmaster), David Proval (Mob Boss Joe Adamo), Brett DelBuono (Young Randy Daytona), La Na Shi (The Dragon), Toby Huss (Groundskeeper), Masi Oka (Jeff - Bathroom Attendant)

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In just a few years, Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant have come to rank among Hollywood's most employed screenwriters. Working exclusively in comedy, a genre they broke into as writers and performers in early '90s MTV sketch shows "You Wrote It, You Watch It" and "The State", the two 37-year-olds have had some of their most profitable success in recent family films like The Pacifier and Night at the Museum.
But Lennon and Garant have simultaneously dabbled in edgier fare, most notably writing, producing, directing, and starring in Comedy Central's "Reno 911!". Last winter allowed the pair to bring their "COPS" parody to the big screen in Reno 911!: Miami. Not long after that came Balls of Fury, a PG-13-rated film that enlisted them as exclusive scribes, with Garant also directing and Lennon co-starring.

As the title suggests, Balls of Fury is a sports comedy and one that doesn't possess the most highbrow sense of humor. Immediately distinguishing this film from any other is that the central sport is ping-pong. In its opening and perhaps best sequence, Balls introduces us to its protagonist Randy Daytona at age 12 when he's competing in the 1988 Olympics (in reality, table tennis' debut as an Olympic sport). Expected to win, Randy loses and then he loses his sergeant father (Robert Patrick, only seen briefly) over the defeat. Now in his 30s, Randy (Tony winner Dan Fogler, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) is corpulent and an unappreciated sideshow act at a lifeless dinner theatre.

Former childhood ping-pong prodigy Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler) returns to table tennis reluctantly and out of shape in "Balls of Fury." Agent Rodriguez (George Lopez) and Randy are slightly flabbergasted by what they see in Master Wong's Happy Mu Shu Palace.

Randy's life suddenly gets a lot more exciting when he's approached by FBI agent Ernie Rodriguez (George Lopez) and urged to help in an investigation to bring down an elusive criminal named Mr. Feng, the man responsible for Randy's father's murder. Their path to Feng requires Randy to return to the ping-pong table for success that will earn an invitation to Feng's exclusive top-secret tournament. In need of some training, the rusty Randy is taken to Master Wong (James Hong), a wise old blind man who breaks the Chinatown code by allowing a "gweilo" (generously translated as "round eye", i.e. Caucasian) in his studio. The relationship of Wong and Randy quickly and deliberately calls to mind that of Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-san from The Karate Kid, perhaps the most American of Balls' inspirations. Of course, Wong has a pretty niece (Maggie Q) that's of the appropriate age to serve as love interest to Randy, though her tough exterior and weariness of men pose obstacles (more than any of Randy's many shortcomings).

About halfway in, the film arrives at its ultimate destination, the underground competition at which Feng is revealed to be played by none other than Christopher Walken. Elite ping-pong players from around the world are gathered at this Central American jungle event, including Randy's brash German victor at the Seoul games (Lennon). In time, Feng's tournament is revealed to carry the highest stakes with its literally sudden death matches. As Randy is paired up against various imposing foes, Rodriguez (who's inexplicably allowed to tag along) tries to get the evidence he needs to put Feng in prison.

Balls is more plot-driven that most sports comedies and its story is more concerned with action and mystery than the requisite "big game." You may not recognize the connection, but Balls is nearly a remake of Bruce Lee's best-known film, the posthumously-released Enter the Dragon, with table tennis substituting for martial arts. Balls is coated with an appreciation for kung fu cinema, though again this is bound to be lost on most viewers and only really sunk in with me after I did some post-viewing research.

Randy, Rodriguez, and the blind Master Wong (James Hong) sit and get noticed at Feng's exclusive tournament of champions. Christopher Walken plays elusive criminal Mr. Feng. I guess the name and costume make him a little weirder than the usual Walken oddball, but not by much.

The film's Asian flavor is apparent, from its use of foreign-bred actors (like Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) to a few standout martial arts fight sequences (mostly featuring Maggie Q) to an atmosphere of poisoned dart blowguns, sex slaves (not what you'd think), and Christopher Walken in ornate kimonos. Apparently, some viewers objected to the film's stereotypical portrayal of Asian-American characters. Per society's scale of offended minorities' importance, this didn't amount to much more than some message board clamor and the occasional disparaging critical remark. I'm somewhat surprised that even that much occurred, though, because what do you really expect of a movie called Balls of Fury?
Silliness is rampant and if the film refreshingly disregards political correctness, it's not in the name of an agenda or bounds-pushing but to serve up harmless laughs.

Harmless may not have been what the filmmakers were going for, but the film succeeds in this way as a light, diverting jaunt. Though it doesn't connect on every joke attempt, Balls scores enough points to qualify as a good time. Its limited ping-pong sequences do well by convincing CGI ball animation and a few nifty tricks with speed and motion. Its final act may not be as entertaining as what comes before it, but there are plenty of funny moments throughout.

The performances are widely spirited and worth remarking upon. In his first leading role on film, Dan Fogler shows he's got comic timing down, which given a chance could carry him and his unorthodox stature into good Jack Black territory. George Lopez does fine as the film's "secret agent man", though he's not behind many laughs and he could have left his Scarface impression home. More impressive is James Hong, a 50-year Hollywood veteran whose role gladly suits his talent in size and scope. It almost doesn't even need to be said that Christopher Walken adds spice to their proceedings. He's done the weird shtick better in more imaginative comedies and it's never clear if his character is actually supposed to be Asian, but he still nails the part of the loopy nemesis. Also providing fun in small supporting roles and cameos are Diedrich Bader ("The Drew Carey Show"), David Koechner (Anchorman), and Toby Huss ("The Adventures of Pete & Pete").

Buy Balls of Fury (Widescreen Edition) on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: December 18, 2007
Suggested Retail Price: $14.98 (Reduced from 29.98)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Keepcase with side snaps
Also available in Reformatted Fullscreen DVD
and on HD DVD / DVD Combo

VIDEO and AUDIO

Not really a movie you buy to show off your home theater, Balls of Fury nonetheless looks pretty good in the DVD's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. A reformatted fullscreen edition is sold separately for those who can't stand black bars
or are unfortunate enough to shop at stores that don't carry widescreen versions. The colors are fairly stylized and I'm not sure if they're as completely intended, with a yellowish tint cast over most scenes especially dark ones. For instance, the end credits black differs from the player-generated black bars on a 4x3 display. The element, however, is clean and the picture is sufficiently sharp and detailed.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack doesn't do a whole lot more than a plain two-channel Dolby Surround would do, with the rear channels being used sparingly. There are a few ping pong game scenes that pack a bit of a punch and the dynamics have plenty of peaks and valleys. Def Leppard fans will appreciate how our hero's ongoing appreciation for the band inspires a few song selections. Like the picture, though, the audio isn't something most viewers will find remarkable.

Feng (Christopher Walken) shows off an innovative polymer gun in this short deleted scene. Model/Playmate Irina Voronina has a small part in the film, but does more acting in the featurette "Under the Balls", in which she poses as a quirky "ball wrangler." Here, she shows off a little ping-pong ball with a face and straw hat. The animated main menu cleverly cycles through cast cut-outs, bouncing them out of sight with a ping-pong ball.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The light slate of bonus features begins with seven deleted scenes (6:35) that most definitely wouldn't have added value to the film. Christopher Walken fans may enjoy seeing a couple more moments with him,
but neither these nor the other excisions (including two ghost sightings) serve up laughs or anything of consequence. An alternate ending (1:50) also falls flat while recalling one of the film's weaker jokes and proposing an FBI career for Randy.

"Balls Out: The Making of Balls of Fury" (13:55) is an above-average production featurette, which includes a lot of genuine insight among the cast/crew sound bites and considerable B-roll set footage.

The extras come to a close with "Under the Balls: The Life of a Ball Wrangler" (5:15), a joke piece that aims to get laughs out of the word "balls" and ball imagery. Skimpily-dressed Playboy model Irina Voronina poses as the mildly cretinous woman in charge of handling all the ping-pong balls needed for shooting.

The animated well-done main menu moves through a rotation of cardboard character standees (each is bounced off by a ping-pong shot) while the listings appear on flaming balls and your cursor is a paddle. Like the main screen, the Bonus Features menu plays dramatic score excerpts, but it and other static menus are expectedly plain.

The disc opens with promos for The Strangers, "The Office": Season Three, American Pie Presents Beta House: Unrated, the Balls of Fury Nintendo Wii and DS video games, and the HD DVD format. The only in-case insert is a booklet which advertises sensible tie-ins and random properties alike.

In this group action shot, as Rodriguez, Wong, and niece/requisite love interest (Maggie Q) lead a jungle charge. Randy poses heroically with a golden ping-pong paddle invitation from Feng, while Ernie and Maggie look on and Master Wong needs some narration.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Balls of Fury isn't likely to make many year-end Top 10 lists and anyone expecting a brainy or hilarious comedy is apt to be somewhat disappointed. Still, while it doesn't live up to its potential or come close to greatness, the movie does offer enough amusement to justify seeing it. Universal's DVD is a lightweight and seems destined for bargain bin pricing in the near future. It's worth considering a purchase then, but a rental will suffice for most who are interested, and even that can't take too high precedence. Fans of the cast and crew up for a ping pong farce shouldn't let the negative reviews scare them off; there's enough wit in Balls to make for an entertaining night. Just don't expect regular repeat viewings.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy on HD DVD/DVD Combo from Amazon.com

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Reviewed December 17, 2007.



Text copyright 2007 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2007 Rogue Pictures, Intrepid Pictures, Spyglass Entertainment, and Universal Studios Home Entertainment.
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