Review: “Balls of Fury”

An utterly flat sports comedy, “Balls of Fury” manages to completely waste a good cast with tired and tedious material that desperately tries to be funny and consistently fails each time. Whilst it plays things safe enough that it’s rarely cringe-worthy, everything is tepid enough to yield merely dead air.

Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant, the creators/stars of the decent but often bipolar “Reno 911!” series, are pretty much responsible for the mess. The setup has potential, the talent is there, and the deliberately dumbed down sports comedy genre of late has had a bit of a renaissance thanks to the likes of “Dodgeball” and Will Ferrell’s “Talladega Nights” and “Blades of Glory”. Yet those vehicles worked so well because they were smartly written, effectively skewering and celebrating the sports they sent up whilst delivering constant laughs ranging from mass appealing broad slapstick to subversively cynical satire.

‘Fury’ lacks any such intelligence or craft. Its comedy is straight up screwball farce, filled with lots of sitcom style one-liners and obvious pratfalls that simply hang there thanks to pauses for laughs that will not come to anyone but the most easily amused. The story starts out as a straight up underdog comeback story, segues into a kind of an adult spin on “Enter the Dragon,” and ultimately falls into a tired James Bond take off by the last act – replete with increasingly ridiculous ping pong antics that include a fast volley of shots across a rickety suspension bridge.

A strong cast is also wasted in cliched roles. Multiple Tony winner Dan Folger makes a very bland film debut as the washed up adult version of a disgraced child athletic superstar. Filled with that manic Jack Black style energy but without the arrogance or ego in tow, Folger tries to hard to make the material work but can’t for the life of him generate any real sympathy or desire to support his slovenly layabout. James Hong, best remembered as Lo-Pan from “Big Trouble in Little China”, spends most of the movie stuck with the one-note blind coach character who spews out both trite Confucius philosophy and non sequitirs about cheap Asian hookers in equal measure.

The others try and do what they can, but struggle with all the stupidity. Walken, dressed like a clean-shaven and more flamboyant incarnation of Fu Manchu, often seems bored despite getting the only few decent lines delivered in his trademark style. George Lopez as a latino FBI officer with unsatisfied dreams of 007-style action, actually does better than expected – same with Thomas Lennon as the over zealous East German opponent. Maggie Q and Aisha Tyler deserve better than this, but provide welcome straightforward characters amidst all the craziness whilst Diedrich Bader has a cute cameo as an imprisoned sex slave.

One thing positive to say is that Garant manages to turn a low budget film into one of surprising production value. Whilst the general direction is very blase, the crew he has hired go into surprising detail in their creation of Feng’s hideout. The costumes in particular are also well done, though other aspects like the music leave much to be desired. Too dumb, over the top and just plain silly – ‘Balls’ lacks imagination, wit and quality. Worse is that it in many ways it starts with great ingredients, but wastes them all in this overcooked turkey of a spoof that can’t approach other comedies of this particular niche, let alone more recent and far more successful laughers from “Borat” and Judd Apatow’s gang. Best saved for a long haul flight to pass the time.