There was a time when Christopher Walken’s name on the marquee meant quality. Think The Deer Hunter, The Dead Zone or King of New York. Oh, how things have changed. He’s a great performer, but in recent years he has allowed his quirky personality and off beat vocal pattern to take precedence over real acting. In short, he has stopped acting and become a personality. His movie choices of late have been erratic. A supporting role as an existential TV repairman in Click, an idiosyncratic campaign manager in Man of the Year opposite Robin Williams and even a joke shop operator married to John Travolta in Hairspray. Eccentric roles all, but they all pale by comparison to his latest outing, a silly hybrid of Enter the Dragon and The Karate Kid with a dash of The Keystone Cops thrown in called Balls of Fury.
Walken plays the evil Feng, crime family boss and table tennis fanatic who bets heavily on child ping pong prodigy Randy Dakota (Dan Fogler) to win a major tournament. When the youngster suffers a humiliating defeat at that destroys his career Feng kills the youngster’s father to satisfy a gambling debt.
Cut to 19 years later. Dakota is a ping pong performer at a Las Vegas dive when he is recruited by a CIA agent (George Lopez) to infiltrate Feng’s super secret ping pong play-offs and help bring down Feng’s crime syndicate.
This is an extremely silly movie, and I don’t have no trouble with silly as long as it’s funny, but that’s where things go south in Balls of Fury. There are some laughs, but instead of the wall-to-wall guffaws the trailer promises, the jokes are few and far between. Walken, dressed in a series of outrageous Madame Butterfly inspired gowns, should be hilarious, but he settles for strange rather than funny. He really needs to be a bit more discerning when it comes to choosing scripts.
As Randy Dakota Tony Award winner Dan Fogler comes across as the poor man’s Jack Black. He has Black’s tubby-but-agile style down pat, but doesn’t deliver the charm or the grace of the School of Rock star. His resemblance to Black becomes distracting when it becomes obvious that this might have been a funnier movie if the filmmakers had just spent the money for the real Jack Black instead of settling for a pale, frizzy haired imitation.
Balls of Fury is the first table tennis movie to come out of Hollywood since Forrest Gump, but I don’t expect its modestly funny charms are going to spark a revival of this long-neglected genre.