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MOVIE REVIEW

Lifeless 'Balls of Fury' lands with a thud

The parody of kung fu and sports-underdog flicks makes even table tennis seem unfunny.

August 29, 2007|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

Goodness, gracious, there's no greatness in "Balls of Fury," a lifeless pingpong comedy that ricochets from one flat gag to the next. The only novelty it can boast of is that it's a sports spoof without Will Ferrell.

Energetic stage star Dan Fogler, who earned a truckload of hardware for his performance in the Broadway musical "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," finds himself in a real lemon of a vehicle for his debut as a cinematic leading man. As Randy Dakota, a burned-out table tennis star who flamed out as a 12-year-old at the 1988 Summer Olympics, Fogler sports a cowardly lion-like mane of hair and the sonic backing of the Def Leppard catalog as he pursues those action-movie chestnuts, redemption and revenge.

A prologue recounts Randy's disaster in Seoul at the hands of a hyperactive East German named Karl Wolfschtagg (Thomas Lennon) before flashing forward nearly two decades, when our hero has been reduced to performing pingpong tricks as part of a Reno dinner theater variety show. Randy is plucked from obscurity by no-nonsense FBI agent Ernie Rodriguez (George Lopez) and plugged into a mission to infiltrate the high-stakes table tennis tournament staged by the evil Feng (Christopher Walken). Randy's incentive? Feng had his father killed after he lost a bet on the fateful Olympic match, lo those years before.

Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, of "Reno 911" fame and the writers of last year's "Night at the Museum," wrote "Balls of Fury," with Garant directing. The movie combines the tropes of the underdog sports film with those of the martial arts parody but finds little new in either form. Pingpong proves to be a surprisingly barren activity to lampoon, and the fact that kung fu movies have been satirizing themselves for years also doesn't help.

The film feels particularly threadbare and thuddingly unfunny when Randy goes to train in Chinatown. Twenty years removed from competition, he's more than a bit rusty, and Rodriguez entrusts him to the blind master Wong (James Hong) and his straight-faced niece Maggie (Maggie Q) -- who becomes an unlikely love interest -- to sharpen his skills. The gimmick of small plastic balls moving at the speed of light grows old fast, and we are left with Maggie dispatching packs of large, muscled men with an impatience that might presage a restless audience.

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kevin.crust@latimes.com

"Balls of Fury." MPAA rating: PG-13 for crude and sex-related humor and for language. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes. In general release.

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