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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Little-Late Film Review: Balls of Fury

Balls of Fury (2007, Rogue Pictures);
This one is sort of by request... ish. I, honestly, forgot all about this movie.  Well, without further ado, Balls of Fury...

Balls of Fury is an inept and forgettable comedy from Robert Ben Garant of Reno 911 fame.  The film focuses on a washed up child-athlete named Randy Daytona (played by Dan Fogler) in his early thirties brought back into the sport of ping pong, which he left after a humiliating defeat twenty years earlier.  F.B.I. agent Rodriguez (played by George Lopez) gets Randy into the underground world of elite table tennis to get to an international suspect named Feng (played by the usually likeable Christopher Walken), who is also responsible for Randy’s father’s murder.  This is the plot of the film, or should I say, the groundwork for a shoddy, unfunny spoof film that falls victim to many of the very things it should be making fun of.

Dan Fogler is channeling Jack Black’s slightly slower brother here, swaying and mugging into the camera.  Fogler is very unfunny in this performance; his acting comparable to that of a mascot in a local used car dealership ad you would see on public access television.  He bobs around, making faces, stumbling through his poorly written dialogue as scene after scene has his character undergo some very uncomfortable pratfalls.  The rest of the cast does not fare any better.  They are more or less fodder for additionally unfunny moments usually either involving culturally-insensitive gags, blind jokes, or homophobic or chauvinistic sex-gags. 

Time will tell if Dan Fogler will evolve as an actor because it usually just takes that one, good performance to elevate a star beyond fat-joke-fodder.  It’s very easy to blame the cast for a film like this.  I think they did what they could with the little they had.  This is a very, very poorly written, poorly directed movie likely because Robert Ben Garant does not seem to have, or have developed, cinematic style.  The film seems to bounce all over the place, cycling between a series of genres that do not mesh because of the lack of coherency between the abundant plot points.  Sometimes, less is good.  The film’s painful blend of sports, traditional action and kung-fu just doesn’t mix well; it’s sort of grainy, a little lumpy, and lacking flavor.

The biggest problem with Balls of Fury is that the film is built upon a weak foundation.  It is filled with all of the sports movie clichés you’d expect, but the sport they chose just doesn’t work here.  The fact that people are taking ping-pong this seriously is not inherently funny.  There has to be something more in the plot to make the film interesting, and the whole F.B.I. thing is useless and weak.  You could literally remove that whole subplot and it would more or less be the same movie.

Dodgeball (hardly a masterpiece but far superior to this) did a good job of making its world believable, but it didn’t take itself seriously, which is another mistake Balls of Fury makes.  Outside of Dogeball’s weird sport, within this over-the-top world, were three-dimensional characters that seemed to exist before and after the plot, and many of them actually showed some warmth.  Having a cast of characters that aren’t just there for the gags written in the screenplay but are believable, interesting and seem to have actual relationships with each other (and chemistry.  CHEMISTRY PEOPLE!) is very important for any plot, even one as silly as this or Dodgeball’s.  Unfortunately, Balls of Fury’s cast lacks any chemistry or warmth, and are just there to carry the jokes.

The above aren’t the only reasons why this movie isn’t funny though.  In other attempts at humor they try to throw in as many B and C-List celebrities as they could to give the film geek-cred, but their roles feel less like characters and more like forced cameos.  Another problem in the gags is that many of them are just weak pratfalls.  Garant apparently doesn’t know how to close or even open a scene because about 90% of them end and/or begin with a character falling over, into, or onto something, or with something falling onto the characters.  It’s lazy, and it comes of as amateurish.

With all of the flaws in the comedy, where Balls of Fury really bites it is in that it just isn’t that interesting.  The film did a very bad job of establishing the world in which these characters exist as a believable place.  This is mostly because the characters that are in the movie are weakly fleshed out.  That doesn’t always make for a bad film, but with new characters popping up out of nowhere, random plot elements ending and beginning at really strange times and the rapidity at which this film executes each of the scenes just makes it a shoddy and weak work.  The characters seem to get lost in the shuffle, disappearing for some time and then just showing back up again, usually with little or no explanation as to what happened or where they were and why they were gone.

Balls of Fury is a broken film.  In different hands, it could have been a funny sleeper, but where it stands, it is a clichéd, boring, laugh-free sports-spoof that tries to be too many things in too many different ways.  It is a scatter-shot work that is the cinematic equivalent of a so-called “artist” that flings a few ounces of wet paint on a blank canvas and calls it a masterpiece.  There is nothing interesting about people playing ping pong, maybe about 10% of the population finds it compelling, but to mass audiences: no.  There has to be more to a film like this than lazy, poorly written gags and dumb, underwritten characters.  This is one of those movies where I like to think they wrote the jokes before they wrote the movie, just working them into an empty shell of a plot.  Balls of Fury isn’t disastrously bad like the Bounty Hunter, but it is a lot like an empty kiddy pool: colorful but shallow, and just a little painful when you jump in.

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