If you can imagine a cross between “Kung Pow: Enter the Fist” and “Beerfest,” you’ll have some idea of what “Balls of Fury” is like. Also how terrible it is. This awful slapstick martial-arts tournament send-up is all bad ideas and worse execution. With all due deference to Bruce Lee, just call it “Enter the Garbage.”
The script comes from two of the guys responsible for “Reno 911!”—Robert Ben Garant (who directs, flaccidly) and Thomas Lennon (who chews the tacky scenery as the hero’s nemesis), and converts the instant-death competition of old kung-fu flicks into a ping-pong tournament presided over by the evil genius Feng (Christopher Walken). Erstwhile American table tennis wunderkind Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler), who was humiliated by East German brute Karl Wolfschtagg (Lennon) at the 1988 Olympics, is recruited by bumbling FBI agent Rodriguez (George Lopez) to get a spot at the games so that the government can defang Feng; and Randy, who’s degenerated into a pathetic has-been doing ping-pong tricks in a seedy Reno casino, agrees because Feng had killed his father (Robert Patrick) over a bid on his Olympics defeat.
Unfortunately, Randy’s skills have deteriorated so badly that he has to be re-trained by Wong (James Hong), a blind master with a niece (Maggie Q) who’s as adept with karate chops and kicks as she is with a paddle (no double entendre intended)—which inevitably leads to some really lame “Karate Kid”-inspired bits.
After what seems an eternity, we get to the tournament, and Walken shows up, prancing about as if his every move would inspire guffaws (they don’t). The usual one-on-ones ensue, culminating of course in excruciatingly unfunny face-offs between Randy and Wolfschtagg on the one hand, and Randy and Feng on the other. As if that schlock weren’t bad enough, some crude gay humor is added in the form of a bunch of “harem slaves” who all happen to be swishy men, most notably Gary (Diedrich Bader), who’s paired with Randy.
Maybe “Balls of Fire” could have garnered some chuckles, if not belly laughs, if it were sharply written or directed, but the script is astonishingly flat and the direction so clumsy that even the occasional fair-to-middling idea gets stepped on. Its sole distinction is that it does without a vomit scene (unless I nodded off during it), although there are plenty of shot-to-the-crotch moments to take up the slack. And the casting of Fogler is disastrous. The sad fact is that the shaggy-haired, overweight guy has absolutely no charisma and even less aptitude for the physical comedy the part demands; he bumbles around like some schlub taken off the street and simply instructed to act wacky, and is actually painful to watch.
The more professional members of the cast are simply wasted, with Maggie Q reduced to posing in tight outfits, Lopez required just to look perpetually embarrassed (an easy assignment in this context), and veteran Hong gamely trying to eke some smiles out of jokes about his blindness that would have seemed ancient during Max Sennett’s days. Lennon apparently thinks that strutting around in spandex like some crazed Nazi is funny; he’s wrong. There’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo by Masi Oka of “Heroes” that doesn’t warrant mentioning, so I won’t. But certainly the person who comes off worst is Walken. Apparently he and the makers thought that simply combining his usual weird vocal delivery with some outlandish costumes would be enough to cause unbounded hilarity, and that writing him amusing stuff for him to say or do was unnecessary. But they’ve miscalculated badly; he actually runs Fogler a close second for the movie’s least funny element. One hopes the paycheck will allow him to live down the embarrassment he’d feel if anyone saw this, which seems pretty unlikely.
Incredibly chintzy sets and costumes, bleary cinematography, and a wan score by Randy Edelman are perfectly substandard complements to the bad writing and performances, which make the movie as wretched for ninety minutes as the Reno lounge acts that take up its first reel are for ten. Maybe if the mere appearance of “Balls” in a title is enough to get you laughing, you’ll be able to tolerate this. Otherwise, steer clear.