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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Balls of Fury

I’m surprised I was the only one on hand yesterday to see Christopher Walken’s balls, but I do understand it was the middle of the week and a lot of people were at work or they just didn’t expect him to put them on display on a Wednesday afternoon, but there they were, all thousand or so of them for the world to see.

You surely understand I am referring to his collection of ping pong balls, of course, those which he had proudly mounted with the paddles and pictures of those former champions of this table-top sport who had played in his secret tournaments in years past. To be technically correct, it’s not Walken per se that is flashing his balls at the
Essex Cinemas this week, it is his character, the ridiculously-evil Master Feng in the equally ridiculous comedy Balls of Fury.

Your eyes are rolling, aren’t they? They should be.
Balls of Fury is an absurd story, written by those nitwits Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, the team responsible for Reno: 911!: Miami and Night at the Museum, as well as the tv hit “Reno 911!” in which they play Deputy Travis Junior and Lieutenant Jim Dangle respectively. Their senses of humor are broad and sometimes juvenile, so those coming to see Balls of Fury ought not to expect the wit of Oscar Wilde or even Neil Simon.

This is not to say Balls of Fury is not without its own charms. I laughed out loud at several of the jokes, most of them terribly “un-pc”, and at the expense of the elderly blind coach whose job was to resurrect the career of former child prodigy Randy Daytona (Dan Fogel; School for Scoundrels), now an overweight, cranky slob, still trying to live down a humiliating moment from nineteen years earlier when he lost a match to German champion Karl Wolfschtagg (Thomas Lennon again), fell down, hit his head, and then uttered a tragically stupid phrase on national television that people have never let him forget. The Chinese coach, Master Wong (the wonderful James Hong, whose 52 year career has included appearances on almost every network television series since 1955), appears to take great enjoyment in his role, poking fun at the typical Asian stereotype he is usually expected to play, and here he rolls his own eyes at some of the “fortune cookie” dialogue he has been handed over the decades.

Wong is reluctantly recruited by equally reluctant to participate FBI Agent Ernie Rodriguez (George Lopez; Tortilla Heaven), who is disgruntled that “only the white agents get the good gigs where they get to wear tuxedos like James Bond while Hispanics like (him) get stuck with a bunch of loser ping pong players.” What Rodriguez doesn’t know is that there are lots of guns in his future when he, Wong, and Randy finally make enough of a reputation in the ping pong world to receive an invitation to Master Feng’s Ultimate Tournament.

The sets of the palace look like they were dusted off from 1980’s
Flash Gordon, corny and overblown, just like Walken’s costumes and his performance. He looks vaguely like a bad drag queen doing Madama Butterfly in an array of kimonos and exotic wigs while flailing his arms about like he’s lip-syncing to an old Supremes song. Holding court next to him is his personal body guard, Mahogany (Aisha Tyler; Death Sentence), who surprises everyone with her special assignment, the permanent elimination of each losing contestant in the tournament when that player doesn’t advance in the rankings. She’s beautiful, AND she blows. Darts, that is, lethal darts. Tyler is capable of so much more than she has to play here and, fortunately, she has other venues than this to show off her skills, although two of her most ample talents are generously on display throughout the film in what has to be one of the most skin-gripping costumes this side of Halle Berry’s Catwoman garb.

Does all this sound a bit like a confusing bag of jumbled who-knows-what? Well, this is just the abbreviated version. I’ve left out half a dozen sub-plots. There’s one involving a local gang’s determination to destroy Wong’s Chinese Restaurant (Wong’s Mui Shu Palace “If the mui shu fits, eat it”) because the old man is teaching a Caucasian ping pong, and so Daytona’s only recourse is to gain the gang’s respect by playing against the community’s most vicious and skilled player ever ~ The Dragon, a temperamental ten-year-old girl. Then there’s a whole other dramedy about a gaggle of male sex slaves that Randy feels inclined to rescue from Feng’s dungeons, including his own courtesan, Gary (Diedrich Bader; Surf’s Up) ~ oh, don’t even ask. There’s also an inexplicable love story thrown in between toady Daytona and Wong’s gorgeous granddaughter Maggie (Maggie Q: Live Free or Die Hard) that makes no sense whatsoever unless Maggie has inherited her grandfather’s blindness AND fallen down an elevator shaft a few too many times and landed squarely on her head with each trip. She goes from trying to kill Randy in the first scene in which she meets him to swooning for him by their very next encounter. I know it’s a low rent/low budget picture, but does typing the right emotions into the script cost anything? Okay, so I kvetch, but I do it with love.

The best reason to see
Balls of Fury can be summed up in one word: Walken. As always, he provides an eccentric and just-this-side-of-bizarre performance that makes you wonder if he hasn’t had a stroke and burned out that part of his brain that provides any kind of discretion or taste. His “Master Feng” is as over-the-top as Faye Dunaway’s "Joan Crawford" or "American Idol" s Sanjaya, both of whom know more than a little bit themselves about chewing the scenery.

I hope
Balls of Fury makes oodles of money because as much as I have no interest in ping pong or Dan Fogel, who has the screen presence of a can of Spam, it just might lure Chris back for Balls 2, and seeing Walken looking like Vera Wang after a long meth-fueled weekend in the Hamptons is worth the price of admission alone.

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