- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 2, 2007

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving the entertainment lives of families, provides reviews of the latest movies from a parenting perspective. For more reviews, click on www.commonsensemedia.org.

‘Balls of Fury’

Rating: PG-13

Common Sense Media: Pause. For ages 13 and older.

..(out of five stars)

Running time: 90 minutes

Common Sense review: Let’s be clear: “Balls of Fury” is no “Blades of Glory.” Nor is it a “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” or any of Judd Apatow’s supersilly-yet-brilliant comedies — though it clearly aspires to join those ranks.

Still, it’s so good-naturedly inane that it manages not to offend. In fact, it may even make you laugh (a little). Credit for that first goes to Christopher Walken, who commits to the insanity with such relish that you can’t help but let your guard down. He plays Feng, a millionaire pingpong fanatic who gathers the world’s best players in an ultimate death match — literally — just so he can watch them do what they do best. He’s also a big-shot arms dealer, which may be why the feds — headed by Agent Ernie Rodriguez (George Lopez) — are after him.

Enter Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler), a has-been pingpong prodigy who once nearly medaled at the Olympics. The defeat left Randy’s father, a gambler who owed money to Feng, dead by the arms dealer’s hand. Instead of avenging his dad’s death, Randy grows up to become a loser who does pingpong tricks at dive bars.

Randy finally gets his chance to face down Feng when Rodriguez recruits him for the FBI’s mission. The former star is woefully out of practice, so he must first apprentice with Wong (James Hong), a blind Chinese restaurant owner who speaks in nonsensical cliches, and his alluring-but-tough niece, Maggie (Maggie Q). Both also have major axes to grind with Feng.

Mr. Walken is a delight, but it’s Mr. Fogler, who cut his teeth on Broadway, who makes this whole enterprise somewhat worthwhile. He floats through the absurdity with ease, able to battle an 8-year-old pingpong master dubbed “the Dragon” without going over the top, even though the material does.

Common Sense note: Parents need to know that although this vapid slapstick comedy from the creators of “Reno 911!” will appeal to tweens and teens, its humor is tinged with a grim undercurrent. There also are Chinese stereotypes and a fair bit of violence, mostly cartoonish and without blood. The movie clearly has its tongue firmly in cheek, which takes the edge off the crudest humor.

Families can discuss the appeal of underdog stories. Why are films that depict a character’s triumphant rise so compelling? In real life, do you think people are more interested in stories like that or in watching heroes crash and burn (the way young Randy fails at the Olympics)? What role does the media play in that process? Also, how does seeing sports on TV affect your perception of them? Do televised events overemphasize the drama? Do you think pingpong could be that hypercompetitive? What other sports look calm when they really aren’t?

Sexual content: A couple kisses passionately, and she wraps her legs around him. References to various characters’ sexual preferences, though nothing really explicit is said. Plenty of scantily clad women. Men grope Maggie at the pingpong training center, though she’s able to fend them off with martial arts.

Language alert: Fairly mild.

Violence alert: Includes gunplay, electrocution, murder by poison dart, and even a bomb going off. It’s largely played for laughs.

Drug/alcohol/tobacco alert: Some drinking and smoking in gambling dens and bars.

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