If you’re a devoted fan of Bruce Lee’s 1973 classic “Enter the Dragon,” you might especially appreciate “Balls of Fury,” which spoofs the plotline and changes the sport from kung fu to ping-pong. Otherwise, the question you’ll be asking is: An “Enter the Dragon” parody? Really? Did it take 34 years to come up with a really good premise?
This is not, you see, one of the goofy sports comedies a la “Dodgeball” or “Blades of Glory” that have been all the rage lately. Those films find their comedy in unlikely characters being fully committed to their non-traditional sports. “Balls of Fury” is more of a parody, reminiscent at times of the Zucker spoofs of yesteryear (“Airplane,” “Hot Shots,” and so forth) in the way it sets up serious or dramatic situations and then subverts them with an incongruous joke.
Example: A man is led into the sinister, dangerous world of underground ping-pong tournaments, where the fearsome master is known as The Dragon. The music swells, the camera movement suggests importance … and then The Dragon turns out to be a little girl.
Second example: Mysterious men in a dark automobile arrive in an alley to deliver a cryptic invitation to an exclusive tournament. After they give their message, they somberly withdraw … only to come back a second later to ask for directions to the freeway.
It’s that kind of thing. I just ruined (er, mentioned) two of the best ones; the rest of the film finds a few loopy, out-of-nowhere laughs, but mostly goes for the desperate, easy, lowbrow gags. People falling down, people eating gross things — you know the routine. The protagonist gets hit in the crotch not once, not twice, but THRICE over the course of the film. That’s not a good sign.
He is Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler), once a promising ping-pong champion who had a meltdown at the 1988 Olympics and is now reduced to demonstrating his prowess in stage shows at a casino. He’s recruited by an FBI agent (George Lopez) to rejoin the ping-pong circuit and get invited to a top-secret tournament hosted by the legendary underworld figure Feng, whom the feds believe is involved in illegal activities.
To get his mojo back, Randy will have to be trained by a wise old Chinese man, Wong (James Hong, who you will recognize as having played The Chinese Guy in more than 300 films and TV shows over the last 50 years). Wong is a Mr. Miyagi figure, of course, and it should not surprise you to learn that he is blind. Why blind? So that he can bump into things and fall down a lot, obviously.
That the Asian crime lord Feng should turn out to be played by Christopher Walken is one of the movie’s few truly inspired ideas. As usual, Walken couldn’t care less how bad the movie is. He just likes dressing up in costumes and saying ridiculous lines. His sheer delight over how fun it is to be in movies is infectious.
I wish I could say the movie is as lively as he is. Dan Fogler, heretofore known only for being in the original Broadway cast of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” should have done a few supporting roles before taking on the lead in a broad comedy. He just isn’t charismatic or funny enough to carry something this big.
Not that he’s given a lot to work with. The script is by Robert Ben Garant (who also directed) and Thomas Lennon — hilarious as Deputy Junior and Lieutenant Dangle on TV’s “Reno 911,” but unfailingly lousy as screenwriters, with “Taxi,” “The Pacifier,” “Herbie Fully Loaded,” “Let’s Go to Prison,” “Night at the Museum,” and now this on their rap sheets. Targeting “Enter the Dragon” specifically as a parody source was questionable enough; the way they’ve executed it — with no subtlety and little creativity — only makes it worse.
C (1 hr., 30 min.; )