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Reno crew phones it in with Balls of Fury

by Glen Baity

A few months ago, when I reviewed Mike Judge’s beleaguered film Idiocracy, I was curious about what other critics had to say. I didn’t make a spreadsheet, but it seems like they fell into two camps: Those like me, who thought it hilarious and oddly, scarily plausible (the minority) and those who were turned off by its strident premise, that Americans are getting steadily dumber as the years go on (the majority).

I confess, I was sympathetic with the latter point of view. Who could really believe that in a scant 500 years, people would tune in en masse to a network TV show called “Ow! My Balls!”

Right?

Well folks, I don’t want to sound smug, but this past Saturday I spent 90 minutes watching a movie called Balls of Fury. Its razor-sharp tagline: “A Huge Comedy with Tiny Balls.” Wokka wokka.

The defense rests.

But I don’t want to be unfair. The main problem with Balls of Fury, surprisingly enough, isn’t an excess of testicle humor, though it does seem unusually fond of a firm punch to the groin. It’s the absence of virtually any humor.

Like its spiritual ancestor Dodgeball (tagline: “Grab Life by the Ball”), Balls of Fury focuses on an obscure pastime that has become an obsession for a select group of misfits. To say it’s thinly plotted would be an understatement, but here are the particulars: The film’s hero is Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler), a former ping-pong prodigy who enters a secret, winner-take-all tournament hosted by the eccentric millionaire (Christopher Walken) who killed his father. Randy seeks the help of Master Wong (James Hong), a blind ping-pong master, to learn the true ways of the pong. That’s about it.

The film was written by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, the brains behind the hilarious “Reno 911!” and the atrocious Reno 911! Miami. I’ve been a fan of these two since MTV’s “The State,” but if they make me sit through any more movies like Balls of Fury, I’m prepared to take back all the nice things I’ve ever said about them.

Frankly, this film is awful. I didn’t expect highbrow humor, but I hoped for something at least less painful. The scant jokes, nearly all of which you can see coming a country mile away, aren’t funny (though I confess to laughing out loud, once, at a bit featuring parakeet who duets with David Koechner on “Two Tickets to Paradise”). More often than not, what passes for humor involves extended gags that aren’t funny the first time and die slow, unfunny deaths as they’re pounded into the ground. The film fancies itself a kung fu movie that substitutes paddles for nunchucks, and there’s just enough actual fighting to make you wish you were watching the new Jet Li flick, or better still, at home playing “Mortal Kombat.”

It appears the filmmakers overestimated the natural hilarity of ping pong. Sure, it’s a quirky game that a lot of people outside the US take very seriously. But it’s not that funny, and the jokes, contrary to what Garant and Lennon might have imagined, do not write themselves.

And let’s talk about Christopher “More Cowbell” Walken for a second: He is not a punchline unto himself. Just having him appear onscreen does not equal laughs. Even a comic actor of his singular talent needs something funny to say. Balls of Fury gives him very little to work with, and while he does his best, stalwart performer that he is, he can’t save it on his own.

Fogler, for his part, does surprisingly well given the lack of material. His delivery will be likened to Jack Black, but he bears an almost-spooky resemblance, in look and demeanor, to a young Sam Kinison. He’s certainly a talent to watch, unless he appears in more movies like Balls of Fury.

Like I’ve said a million times in the past, I’m a fan of dumb comedy, but even dumb comedy has to be a little bit smart. It’s frustrating, because judging by their body of work, Lennon and Garant clearly know their way around a joke. It’s as if they forgot to include them in this film, a lazy satire of cheeseball ’80s hits like The Karate Kid. That sort of thing has been done no less than a million times by now, making Balls of Fury something no comedy should be: pointless and irrelevant.

Threaten to take your balls and go home when you send your e-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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