Andrea and I have written a lot of comedy together. And I think she has a love-hate relationship with my notion of comedy. She, of course, is very clever and funny. I, on the other hand, am just silly. (I do fancy that I have other talents as a writer like character development and structure.) So I have to be careful when she recommends a comedy that she thinks I will like. Note: one that I will like — not necessarily one she found amusing. And thus it was with this history that I began to watch the 2007 comedy Balls of Fury.
The film is written by the comedy writing team of Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon. They are funny guys who have been involved with such films as Night at the Museum and Let’s Go to Prison. But usually, they are just two writers of many. I have little doubt that they are brought in on a lot of projects uncredited just to “punch up” screenplays. And Balls of Fury certainly has a lot of punch. It is funny throughout. Plus, it is based on a funny idea: a kung fu film where the fight sequences are replaced with ping pong games. It’s kind of hard to go wrong with that.
Unfortunately, half the comedy involves hitting people in the groin and other forms of coarse humor. I have to admit that I feel rather out of time with modern comedy. Even with Bob’s Burgers, which I consider about the best thing on television, the fart jokes make me cringe. But at least there, the jokes are scattered about. Here, when the comedy has worked itself out, it is time for a kick in the balls. It is rather too predictable. On the other hand, much of the material is comedy gold like the band of male sex slaves.
A bigger problem is that the film is structurally a mess. It starts with a scene of our hero as a young man that is completely unnecessary — it could have all been rendered in the context of the modern story. Then it plays around with the failed ping pong legend, a halfhearted attempt at a “getting in shape” sequence, and then out of nowhere, we are at the tournament. It’s not clear where the film is going and that is probably best because the film doesn’t really go anywhere. Basically, the film has a ten minute first act, the second act is 20 minutes of “training” and 40 minutes at the tournament — none of it with any dramatic momentum, and then a 10 minute third act that turns the silly up to 11.
None of this would be a problem if any of the characters were worth caring about. There are a lot of actors and comedians who I like in the film. But up on the screen, they are just actors who I like. Dan Fogler in the lead role seems kind of like Rainn Wilson in The Rocker but without any of the pathos. Maggie Q as the love interest has no personality whatsoever. And why she falls for Fogler is not clear other than that the female and male leads must fall in love. Christopher Walken as the heavy is very funny, but he’s almost a parody of himself. The characters are only the actors playing them, there is nothing else to them.
Nevertheless, the film is funny. And if you are in the mood for something silly, I don’t think you will be disappointed. But I think what Balls of Fury wants to be is Kingpin. And while it never gets as vulgar as that film, it also isn’t the cohesive film with well developed characters either. Still, I will probably watch it again some time.