It's never an encouraging sign when a comedy filled with talented pros produces only a single distinct laugh. The sloppy new farce Balls Of Fury earns its one lonely chuckle early when sad-sack protagonist Dan Fogler explains that he had to abbreviate the dates on his parents' tombstones because numbers cost $100, while apostrophes are free. There's another amusing bit involving villain Christopher Walken watching over a panda whose care and feeding leave much to be desired. But mostly, the film is content to have familiar faces recycle lazy pop-culture references and random bits of silliness. A sadly representative running joke involves Fogler's love of Def Leppard; his campy band T-shirts don't get any funnier the fifth or sixth time around. The Leppard thread reaches its nadir when Fogler climactically lip-syncs and air-guitars a vintage Leppard tune. Judging by his performance, the roly-poly, child-like, rock-loving Fogler must fear the day Jack Black angrily shows up at his front door, demanding his shtick back.
The latest in a series of wacky comedies on marginal sports, including Dodgeball, Beerfest, and Blackballed, Balls Of Fury casts Fogler as a disgraced ping-pong prodigy reduced to performing trick table-tennis stunts after a disastrous turn in the 1988 Olympics. He gets a second chance when FBI agent George Lopez recruits him to infiltrate a high-stakes ping-pong competition held by master criminal Walken. Co-writer Thomas Lennon co-stars as the lamest zany caricature Ben Stiller somehow never played, a glowering German variation on the effete narcissist Lennon plays on Reno 911!
The filmmakers took a risk in casting as their lead a Broadway favorite largely unknown to moviegoers. It's too bad everything else feels thoroughly secondhand. Like many of their peers, Lennon and co-writer/director Robert Ben Garant subscribe to the popular notion that the '80s are funny (hence the Leppard) and homosexuality is hilarious. So they lard the film with gay jokes, some mildly amusing (Walken's "courtesans of pleasure" are all jocks) and some less so (Walken behaves like a daffy old queen throughout). Just a few entries in, the current unconventional-sports-comedy trend is already showing signs of creative exhaustion. Add Balls Of Fury to the list of movies that not even Walken's moon-man delivery and oddball comic energy can save.