Relentlessly silly in spoofing martial-arts movie conventions, “Balls of Fury” has roughly enough laughs for a first-class trailer but wheezes, gasps and finally goes flat through much of its 90 minutes. “Reno 911!” collaborators Robert Ben Garant (who also directed) and Thomas Lennon (who co-stars) team on the script, but aside from giving pingpong its most loving and extended cinematic exposure since “Forrest Gump,” they have served up at best a minor trifle that lacks the inventiveness to keep paddling in theaters for long, with better possibilities of rallying as a DVD.
In some respects, the movie proves most notable for its oddities. In no particular order, these include 78-year-old movie vet James Hong stealing every scene he’s in; Christopher Walken’s quirky, villainous turn in a gaudy costume that calls to mind Francis Ford Coppola’s “Dracula”; “Heroes” star Masi Oka in a blink-and-you-miss-him cameo; and Jason Scott Lee — who played Bruce Lee in “Dragon” — in an only slightly less abbreviated appearance, almost unrecognizable under a mop of unruly hair.
Popular on Variety
As for the plot, it basically careens from one movie send-up to another, after starting with the humiliation at the 1988 Olympics of young Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler, direct from Broadway’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”), dooming him to become a pathetic, pingpong-playing Reno act today.
Shades of “Enter the Dragon,” a government agent (George Lopez) approaches Randy to infiltrate a pingpong tournament thrown by the mysterious Feng (Walken), who is clearly up to no good. Ah, but Randy’s skills have atrophied, so the movie briefly switches gears to its one modestly inspired segment, a “Karate Kid” riff with Hong as Wong, Randy’s ill-tempered blind mentor, and Maggie Q as Wong’s niece and Randy’s improbable love interest.
After that, it’s off to the tournament, with Walken arriving about halfway through — right around the time all the air seeps out of the movie, fumbling from cliche to cliche without much coherence. Nor does it help that this is clearly a cut-rate production, with the husk of an old Chinese restaurant near Universal Studios conspicuously presented as Feng’s elaborate bad-guy lair.
Fogler manages a few zany moments by looking terrified and suffering a number of thudding pratfalls, but with his mangy mane and generous girth, more than anything he seems like a prime candidate to play Sam Kinison should someone make a movie about the comic’s life. Other than Hong, in fact, the cast — with Lennon as Randy’s German pingpong nemesis — is generally squandered, though Lopez does at least get to indulge in a brief “Scarface” homage.
Pic doesn’t really serve an ace until its closing credits roll, accompanied by the entire cast’s raucous, energetic rendition of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” that comes as too little, too late. Beyond that, the movie’s clever marketing slogan — “A huge comedy with tiny balls” — actually has it backward, inasmuch as it takes huge balls to make such grandiose claims about a comedy this tiny.