Christopher Walken’s essential star quality, his absolute uniqueness as a performer, is never more apparent, or welcome, than when he appears in dreck. Even in the worst films, ENVY comes to mind, he is there, effortlessly finding something, anything, in a bad script and worse directing, to which a hapless audience can cling until the film is over. And so it is with BALLS OF FURY, a misguided misfire that has little other than Walken to recommend it.
What wants to be a comedy in the screwball parody tradition takes a left turn into Palookaville and never comes back. Instead of playing off the rich panoply of martial arts/sports/spy clichés, it becomes one, and a sub-par one at that. Lead Dan Fogler, as Randy Daytona, the disgraced, over-the-hill ping-pong phenom reduced to afternoon dinner theater never takes off emotionally or comedically. He has the stench of the middle-school class clown whose repertoire hasn’t changed since the 7th grade. Saddled with insipid direction, bad acting, and a script that focuses on using the world “balls” as a double-entendre with all the panache of ci-mentioned class clown finesse, there is not much to do here except wait for Walken to make his appearance. And when the does, the clouds part, mostly, and the fun can begin.
A big part of that is that Walken himself, here tricked out as an ersatz Ming the Merciless swathed in satin robes as vibrant as the tropical drinks he favors, is so obviously having a good time himself. He gets to dress up in fun costumes, paint his nails red, and futz over outré portrait collars taller than he is while giving free rein to his oddly emphatic delivery and picking up a paycheck. One can only hope a large one. As the fiendish international gunrunner and ping-pong enthusiast, he makes mincemeat of Folger, whose straight face seems more narcoleptic than deadpan, even with the Elvis sideburns to add a piquant note. James Hong as the blind ping-pong master tasked with bringing Daytona back into the big leagues is a non-entity. George Lopez as the FBI agent who recruits Daytona into an undercover operation is wooden. Maggie Q as the master’s niece and Aisha Taylor as the Walken’s enforcer are mannequins. Walken, with occasional help from Diedrich Bader as a sex slave who failed to read the fine print in his contract, can’t carry the film alone. In fact, the dialogue he’s handed is so hokey that even he can’t save more than 70% of it. At least he looks good in the various pompadours his characters sport that cross 18th-century chic with Goth glamour.
For BALLS OF FURY, no joke is too stale, no set-up too contrived, and no standard too low. Bad production values, toss-away cinematography, and a sadly inappropriate belief in the worth of the material at hand all combine for a singularly painful cinematic experience.