Christopher Walken is an interesting character. The Deer Hunter’s iconic scenes pretty much made him a household name, but he seems as comfortable in the high seriousness of Abel Ferrara’s The Funeral as goofing it up for kids in Mouse Hunt. He’s an amazing actor; I saw his performance in Martin McDonough’s play A Behanding in Spokane on Broadway a few years back, and he was simply electrifying. He’s something of a casting coup in Balls of Fury, a deeply silly martial-arts movie spoof that seems to have few fans, but certainly made me laugh.
Balls of Fury attempts to do for competitive ping-pong what Dodgeball did for, erm, Dodgeball. We meet Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler) as a child protégée, watched by Ronald and Nancy Reagan as he flames out at the Olympics. Years later, Randy is playing improbable Vegas-style exhibition shows, when the FBI enlist him to infiltrate the infamous elite ping-pong tournaments run by criminal mastermind Feng (Walken). The stakes are high. ‘What part of sudden death don’t you understand?’ asks Feng, and soon Randy is playing for his life as the FBI gather outside Feng’s hideaway.
I’ve called out film after film for out-dated and offensive jokes at the expense of disability, but for once, I’ll make an exception here; Randy’s tutor Master Wong (James Hong) is blind, and Balls of Fury endlessly makes jokes about his inability to see. This falls under the heading of making fun of movie clichés (the blind swordsman trope) and the gags somehow fall just on the right side of acceptable. There’s some funny sight gags, like Randy’s father being buried in a graveyard next to a flume that routinely soaks Randy while he’s mourning. Robert Ben Garant’s film goes to great lengths to establish the hero’s bona fides as a genuine Def Leppard fan, and their majestic power-rock anthems adorn many a musical montage as Randy makes his way to the bottom of the ping-pong underbelly.
Need further inducement? How about Robert Patrick, Beverly Hills Chihuahua star George Lopez, and Brooklyn ‘99’s Terry Crews, plus Patton Oswalt and Maggie Q as rival players? Best of all is Walken, who lifts things to a higher comic gear as Feng. Slipping into other languages, rushing back to catch the Antiques Roadshow, snapping Randy’s arm back into its socket when he fakes an injury, he’s off-the-scale funny in this film, and surely deserves a spin-off film of his own. Balls of Fury is low-brow humour to be sure, but delivers a slew of silly, often amusing gags that shows the creative team have the stones to genuinely entertain.