You, with scripts of badminton drama, kickball glory, and tiddlywinks tragedy: Hurry to Hollywood.
From 2004’s “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story” to this year’s “Blades of Glory,” comedies of unlikely sports are being churned out. But “Balls of Fury,” the new pingpong romp, may signify the twilight of the trend.
There’s no Will Ferrell here, no Ben Stiller. But, there’s Dan Fogler, a Tony winner for Broadway’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
Written by “Reno 911!” co-creators Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant (who also directs) “Balls of Fury” may be conventional for its mock athleticism, but there is a natural, fresh comedy about Fogler.
With long, thick curly hair, pointy mutton chops and portly body, he has the look of someone who accidentally wandered onto a movie set, shrugged, and decided to play along.
Fogler plays Randy Daytona, a former pingpong prodigy haunted by his loss in the 1988 Olympics. Now washed-up, he’s performing table tennis tricks at a Nevada casino. “I get introduced by a cockatoo,” he explains.
Besides wearing Reebok Pumps, Daytona is clad in Def Leppard T-shirts, the de facto costume of ex-prodigies.
Because of his “unique skills,” Daytona is called upon by an FBI agent (George Lopez) to infiltrate the lair of a criminal mastermind: the pingpong-loving Feng (Christopher Walken).
Daytona must first improve his pingpong skills so that he’s invited to Feng’s annual underground tournament. He turns to Chinatown’s resident master, Wong (James Hong), who dispenses such platitudes about the game as: “She is like a fine, well-aged prostitute. It takes years to learn her tricks.”
By teaching a white person, though, Wong risks banishment from Chinatown, “and, by extension, Orange County.”
It’s this kind of “Naked Gun”-style nonsense that is the best of “Balls of Fury.”
Once Daytona completes his rigorous training and proves himself by beating the menacing Dragon (an 8-year-old girl), he gains entry to Feng’s (literally) sudden-death tournament with the receipt of a Wonka-like “golden paddle.”
It should come as a surprise to no one that Walken is well-suited to playing a diabolical pingpong enthusiast. He greets his guests ominously, but departs by bidding them “toodles.” He says — in his trademark pronunciation — that his extravagant lair is “not much, but it’s homey,” and confesses he has no idea how to care for his panda: “I’m not really sure what they eat.”
At the main event, a number of ridiculous champions of pingpong converge, most notably Daytona’s rival, the German Karl Wolfschtagg (Lennon). These scenes, like many in the film, are an exercise in comedy excess, featuring dual-paddle Siamese twins and a hulking, pecs-flexing giant with a soft touch.
Here and elsewhere, “Balls of Fury” reverts to “Matrix”-like camera zooms, pointless action sequences and as much double entendre as it can manage.
That may sound fine to some, but for others, it overshadows the movie’s smarter slapstick surprises.
Once the match is finished and “Balls of Fury” is over, the cast sways to a rendition of Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” joining in the tradition of the conclusions of films like “There’s Something About Mary” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”
But the movie hasn’t earned such an encore and you’re again reminded of the film’s copycat genesis.
Sell your sport scripts if you can; the genre’s end may be nigh.