Competitive athletics spoofs of ESPN 8 “The Ocho” caliber have enjoyed a healthy run in Hollywood over the past few years. Beerfest and Dodgeball mocked their respective sports with honor, dignity and enough blatant cultural stereotypes to push conservatives to tears. The latest, Balls of Fury, thrusts the burgeoning genre into new territory by fusing the obvious spoof of ping pong with a spoof of kung fu, complete with legends from the genre spoofing iconic characters they’re most notable for playing.
Leading the “spoof-fu” assault is Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler), a Def Leppard-loving slob of a former ping pong champion forced into exile from the sport after a mistake against an arrogant German opponent led to the murder of his father, who had bet money on the match with a mysterious crime lord known as Feng. I admit to having never seen or even heard of Fogler before Balls of Fury, and remarkably, he plays the role of an out-of-shape has-been seeking redemption quite well. It doesn’t take a finely tuned physical specimen to excel at the sport of ping pong, so Folger’s rotund proportion fits the role without issue. You know he’s going to come out on top one way or the other, but you don’t care because he’s capable of making you laugh along the way.
Fogler’s biggest challenge was also his greatest asset: sharing the screen with an ingenious supporting cast. Leading the way is Christopher Walken as Feng doing what he does best: spitting out Walken-esque monologues and outrageous one-liners. Maggie Q steals every scene she’s in as Fogler’s unlikely love interest, thanks to an array of skimpy outfits revealing her obscenely toned body. Jason Scott Lee and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa successfully spoof the serious kung-fu legends they often portray, and Diedrich Bader gets in on the act playing a male sex slave — to other males. A certain “Hiro” and famed voice of a culinary “Rat” even make appearances where you’d least expect to find them.
The true hero in Balls of Fury is kung fu legend James Hong playing a “Mr. Miyagi” mentor character to Daytona. Only he’s blind, and incredible horny. Hong is naturally comedic by the unique way he delivers his lines. When combined with material written to be funny, Hong becomes the focal point of the entire film with one laugh following the next. The writers were wise to give him the last laugh and a sizeable portion of screen time.
The only real downer in Balls of Fury is the FBI’s involvement spearheaded by George Lopez playing a desk jockey agent yearning for some action. George is tasked with getting Daytona into Feng’s secret tournament of champions, but the film would have been much better off had he stayed behind for the trip. Apart from a smattering of chuckles, Lopez’s lines are awkward and the persistent Latino slang grows tiresome, fast. His comrades aren’t much better thanks to writing that depicts American’s elite agents as bumbling buffoons. Unfortunately, FBI intervention commands the film’s final act, dragging down what had been a cleverly written and well-acted sports spoof to that point.
Universal Studios Home Entertaiment presents Balls of Fury via a VC-1 encoded 1080 transfer that falls into the “as expected” category. The picture sharpness, and especially color depth displayed in a wide variety of costumes and sets, is a clear step up from what standard DVD is capable of delivering. I didn’t pick up on any obvious edge enhancement, grain and noise is minimal, and black levels hold their own in some of the seedier locations. The overall presentation won’t knock your socks off like some of the format’s premiere video quality titles might, but it’s a respectable representation of how high definition trumps its standard-DVD predecessor.
Offered on the audio side are Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 tracks. The Dolby TrueHD option is clearly the obvious choice, ironically sounding best when the film is at its worst during a bullet-blazing FBI assault on Feng’s compound. Balance between dialogue, sound effects and the score — even Def Leppard songs — falls within acceptable levels. Like the video, the audio isn’t something you’ll remember the next day, but performs as well as it needs to, given the subject matter.
Balls of Fury special features are a mix of mostly HD material also available on the standard DVD, as well as a pair of HD-exclusive featurettes that require Web access to download. Hardcore Blu-ray Disc proponents would laugh at this knowing a 50GB disc would easily fit the material, and they’d have a good point. As fate would have it, I was unable to log in and download the HD-exclusive featurettes, Bridge Stunt and Bamboo fight, during the time of this review. More fuel for the Blu-ray fire. Their names sum up what to expect, so I’m not up in arms at the loss. The special features also available on the standard DVD are broken down below.
Deleted Scenes (6:36, HD) — There are seven scenes in this quick montage, each of which were mercifully cut.
Alternate Ending (1:50, HD) — George Lopez is gifted the majority of lines in this awful scene, all the better it was left on the cutting room floor.
Balls Out: The Making of Balls of Fury (13:57, HD) — The editors of this piece managed to cover a lot of ground in under 15 minutes of run time. It touches upon the film’s inspiration, kung fu and ping pong fusion, training, casting, writing, and more. A definite must-see if the film tickled your funny bone.
Under the Balls: The Life of a Ball Wrangler (5:15) — This is the yang to the previous featurette’s ying; a pointless spoof of a hot gal corralling ping pong balls on the set. She even paints the balls like Easter Eggs. It didn’t take long before I was reaching for the fast-forward button.
Kung fu invaded the world of ping pong and you know what? It works, thanks to a who’s who of real-life kung fu stars willing to make fun of the work defining their careers, Dan Fogler holding his own against the screen legends, and some genuinely funny moments. The high-def presentation isn’t that shabby, either. You could do a lot worse with any of the Karate Kid sequels.
- Score: 7.7