STUDIO:  Universal Studios
MSRP: $19.98 each
RUNNING TIME: 91 Minutes
-Deleted Scenes
- Alternate Ending
- Balls Out: The Making of Balls of Fury
- Under the Balls: The Life of a Ball Wrangler

The Pitch

Ballsport. Or more accurately, ballsweat.

The US coach’s constant threats of violence towards the team would’ve been taken more seriously if not for his serious problem with depth perception.

The Humans

Directed by Ben Garant
Written by Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant
Starring Dan Fogler, Christopher Walken, George Lopez, Maggie Q, Thomas Lennon, Robert Patrick, Terry Crews, Diedrich Bader

“So what I do is, after each role like this, I just put a little piece of my dignity in this jar, you know, for safekeeping.”

The Nutshell

Randy Daytona (Fogler) was a child phenom on the pro ping pong circuit, racking up wins left and right. When his time came to shine in the Olympics, some shady dealings by his father broke his concentration and allowed him to fail on the biggest stage of them all (and also lose his father, who was subsequently killed). Many years later, working as a novelty lounge act, he is recruited by an FBI Agent (Lopez) looking for him to infiltrated the underground extreme ping pong circuit and help them catch the criminal underlord Feng, purported to look like George Takei. With the help of a blind trainer and his daughter, Daytona gears up to compete in the holy grail of underground ping pong, a sudden death tournament at Feng’s opulent palace  where Randy looks to avenge his father’s death and reclaim the glory of his childhood, taking his rightful place as the real king of pong.

There’s little to do other than cower in the presence of Robo-penis.

The Lowdown

What is it about Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon that they can be so good when it comes to playing around with their fellow members of the extant (but still constantly intermingling) State troupe and come off so comedically flat in all of their other enterprises? The connective tissue between the films they’ve written that have been developed for the big screen is that a lot of them have genuinely good concepts at their core; Night at the Museum’s success is completely understandable given that it’s premise is one that has crossed any child/young adult with a pulse’s mind who has ever stepped foot in a museum in their life. Balls of Fury’s ‘Bloodsport in the realm of competitive ping pong’ is a similarly fertile concept that is completely lifeless in its delivery to the big screen, compounded by the fact that there’s no Shawn Levy-shaped scapegoat to place this film’s disappointing lack of verve or humor on, as Garant himself is the director of the picture.

While off-putting for newcomers, everybody else was, if not necessarily comfortable, then at least used to Ken’s penchant for fucking all things stationary.

I think a great deal of the film’s shortcomings comes from the fact that it is constantly trying to defy convention to the point that its defiance becomes what is expected. Sometimes convention can be good, it helps build a familiarity with the audience. If they would’ve played the whole concept a little straighter, some of the characters would’ve resonated a lot more loudly and the whole picture would’ve become funnier simply by virtue of the fact that it’s taking something marginal like competitive ping-pong and playing it straight. They never seem to get this, and the film’s concussive piling on of jokes in which people fall over or a blind man fails to look in the correct direction have the cumulative dulling effect of an old fashioned cloth covered in ether. Worse than trying too hard to be funny is the fact that the plotting is just downright sloppy and ill-conceived. Instead of showing us that the Randy Daytona character is improving with the training sessions we’re instead treated to a couple of montages where he fails miserably followed by him defeating stern competition effortlessly.  Similarly the film builds to a final epic confrontation between two characters and then backs out of it and changes gears, a subversion of convention that the film never manages to recover from (although it was already in a Schiavo-esque state of consciousness at that point, so its probably a moot point). Not even a game Maggie Q running about kicking people in the face can save this pile of hands.

The ‘Swing Free or No Hard’ campaign for boxers over briefs was scratched before it ever saw air.

And despite a couple of welcome comic ringers being utilized (Patton Oswalt and Terry Crews), there isn’t a lot of good coming out of the performances. The closest to getting the vibe is Lennon as the sadistic German ping pong champion, but even that skirts the line of parody too closely and never feels like its being played straight enough to actually work. Even Christopher Walken, usually able to mine uncomfortable nuggets out of any role in any film, is reduced to looking silly instead of being given any real solid business at any point in the movie. It’s a shame to see a talented group of comedians fail so conclusively with a premise as promising as this one, but it goes to show that movies like this work as a sort of cautionary tale about what happens when comedians are trying to work by the studio’s rules instead of creating comedy that’s fully representative of their own sensibilities.*

“I keep have the same nightmare: I’m walking down Sunset Boulevard, and a beautiful woman approaches me. She tells me she’s a huge fan and asks if she can have an autograph. I say of course and as I’m signing it, she says ‘When does the next season of Mind of Mencia start, anyway?’. And then I wake up.”

The Wii tie-in game for Balls of Fury is just about as poorly constructed as the movie itself, but fails on different grounds. Since the previously released Wii Play already had a ping pong mini-game option, Balls of Fury would have to differentiate itself by smoothing out the game engine and having a more reactive Wiimote that would make gameplay easier. It does add some options to ping pong (multiplayer) that are nice additions, but on the whole the game feels a little lacking overall in terms of encouraging replay value. The general idea of the thing is to get enough volleys to build up your power bar to unleash a furious special move (either a zig-zaggy thing, one where it disappears and reappears or a NBA Jam-esque ‘He’s on fire’ volley) but the game wears out its welcome quickly.  And while having each character be able to recite only one line of dialogue from the film is kinda funny in a provoking nostalgia for old consoles and their limited memory for audio sort of way, it becomes intensely grating after the third or fourth match (or halfway through the first, depending on your mileage). While there is something to be said for a videogame where you can choose to play as Terry Crews, this becomes awfully repetitive, awfully quick. Easy to avoid, especially if you have one of the other ping pong options for the platform. Still, infinitely more entertaining that the trenchfoot for the brain that is the feature film.

“I get what you’re going for there. A little Gamorrean guard mixed with the Shredder. It’s nice, really.”

The Package

The cover art is bland, and highlights the cast instead of taking the easy opportunity for a large print testicle joke, which is unfortunate. The transfer is solid and the sound is equally so, and there’s a few extras for fans of the movie, which there shouldn’t be. None of them add up to much (the deleted scenes and alternate ending aren’t missed), and the Under the Balls feature is somehow less funny than the movie. Still, there’s something to be said for effort. Even if that something is “stop”.

“Oh wow, you really have a manic sort of Jack Black vibe in your performance, Dan.”
“Yeah, I get that comparison a lot.”
“No.” *solitary tear rolls down cheek*

*As an additional note, can we officially put a moratorium on the victory lap end credits sequence with the cast singing a song utilized in the film? This sucks even when the movie is good, so imagine the pain inflicted by heaping this on top of a poor movie.  Exception: If Michael Haneke decides to have the cast of Funny Games sing along to “Bonehead” over the end credits. That’s it.

Movie: 2.0 out of 10
Game: 5.0 out of 10