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Movie Review

Who knew table tennis was so tawdry?

But it is. Oh yes, it is. Randy Daytona knows it well. Randy was once a 12-year-old Ping-Pong prodigy before he lost a critical match in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. That showdown, against the frosted-hair East German Karl Wolfschtagg, cost young Randy his gold medal, his self-respect and his father—who was killed after wagering on the match with the notorious Chinese Ping-Pong fanatic Feng. Randy became a shadow of his prepubescent self, hitting rock bottom as a sloppy, overweight novelty act for the buffet crowds in Reno, Nev.

This explains why, when Randy gets a surprise visit from the FBI, it actually means things are looking up. The Feds want to infiltrate Feng's organization and smash his gun-smuggling ring. But the only way to do it is to participate in an über-prestigious, underground table tennis tourney at his pad. Randy's the FBI's ticket in.

Alas, Randy is woefully out of prime Ping-Pong shape. So the FBI asks a blind Chinese paddle guru, Master Wong (and his beautiful niece, Maggie), to whip him into form. And it works. Sort of. In training, Wong forces Randy to execute kill shots with a wooden spoon, fend off a hive of angry bees with a flyswatter, and listen to tired bits of backhanded Ping-Pong wisdom.

Randy gets his invite to Feng's tournament by beating a local champion named The Dragon—an angry, trash-talking little girl wearing a Dora the Explorer shirt. Then, too late, he finds out that Feng's shindig showdown is quite literally a sudden-death affair: Each loser gets a poison dart in the neck. The winner, um, doesn't.

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Positive Elements

Randy rescues a clutch of male sex slaves from imprisonment and certain death.

[Spoiler Warning] In the penultimate match, Feng forces Randy to go head-to-head with Maggie. Maggie refuses to try to win (and live) in an admirable display of sacrificial love for the rotund roustabout.

"It would be an honor to give you my life," she says.

Randy is having none of that, and forces Maggie to return his volleys by hitting the ball so hard and with such precision that it bounces off her forehead, belt, bracelets, ankles, etc., and back to his side of the table. In truth, if Randy wanted Maggie to win the match (which appears to be his goal), all he would've had to do is hit the ball into the net a couple of times. But I quibble.

Spiritual Content

Along with such throwaway lines as "he played table tennis like the devil in short shorts," certain items are referred to as "lucky": Randy uses two lucky paddles and has a brief encounter with a lucky cricket.

Sexual Content

Let's start with the title. Balls of Fury is a fairly obvious double entendre (made even more noticeable by one of the film's posters—which we chose not to publish on this site). Many similar double entendres are scattered throughout the film: Maggie tells a cadre of opponents to watch their balls, not her breasts, for instance.

The outfits women wear seem to be selected for objectification and little else. Maggie and the other primary female character, the poison-dart-shooting Mahogany, wear the skimpiest of clothing. We first see Maggie in two-piece exercise gear, complete with short shorts and sports bra; we see Mahogany in a slinky, cleavage-accentuating outfit.

Randy and Maggie's first kiss is supposed to be sweet and tender, until the camera finds a wider angle and reveals that Maggie's legs are wrapped around Randy's waist. Later, she wraps her legs around the neck of another man—this time a bare-chested evil henchman—during a martial arts fight. A Ping-Pong student grasps Maggie's backside, which causes Maggie to go into a martial-arts frenzy. The fight ends after Maggie rips off the student's pants, revealing a set of white briefs.

Feng, meanwhile, makes come-on remarks to Randy that imply a homosexual attraction. Feng also keeps an imprisoned stable of male courtesans on hand. They parade around in muscle shirts and, when Randy rescues them, they thank him profusely by touching him and kissing his hands and cheek. (Randy shoos them away.) Randy is initially "given" one of the men for the night, but since neither wants to do anything erotic, the two end up playing Boggle.

Wong, however, reportedly has an amorous night with his own escort. The insinuation is that, because he's blind, Wong doesn't know that it's a man he's been carousing with. And the sexual proclivities of Wolfschtagg are also called into question; Randy refers to him as a "German fruit salad."

Wolfschtagg tells Randy that he slept with Randy's mother, and says he practices naked. Wong compares table tennis to a "fine, well-aged prostitute." One of Randy's opponents suggestively licks a trophy. And most of the cast sings a gyrating rendition of Def Leppard's "Pour Some Sugar on Me."

Violent Content

The biggest mystery in Balls of Fury may be why Randy's voice isn't several octaves higher by the end. His critical body parts take a pounding via fists, feet, paddles and chopsticks. (Chopsticks are also shoved up another man's nose.)

The FBI agent assaults Randy, punching him in the nose and breaking his arm. Randy's also shot at, thrown in a dumpster and fried with a high-voltage training vest.

Tournament losers die when they're hit by poisonous darts. Randy's dad is killed. (A blade is drawn before the scene cuts.) Maggie is captured and bound. A heart attack is played for laughs, as is the demise of a couple of crickets.

Because the film is partly a spoof of martial arts flicks, Balls of Fury contains several stylized fight scenes. [Spoiler Warning] That said, the bad guys come to more explicit ends. When Randy blocks a poison dart with his Ping-Pong paddle, he hurls the paddle, dart and all, back at Mahogany. The dart's needle pins the paddle to Mahogany's forehead. And while Randy might have gotten a few shocks from the electric vest, Feng is electrocuted by it.

Crude or Profane Language

The s-word is used four times. Milder profanities ("d--n," "a--," "b--ch") are peppered throughout. People are called crude terms for sexual anatomy. God's name is abused a half-dozen times; Jesus' once.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Feng, Wong and sporting spectators puff on cigarettes. Feng sips what looks to be alcohol. The FBI agent holds a drink served in a melon rind, but is not shown drinking it. He longs to be like James Bond, and says he always imagined himself "drinking martinis."

Other Negative Elements

This is a film with a saliva fixation. Wolfschtagg's primary mode of communication is, apparently, spitting. He spits in Randy's hand and spits on the dog tags of Randy's beloved, dead father. Randy shows he's ready to play some serious Ping-Pong by sticking a piece of chewing gum underneath the table. When Randy wins a bet, the guy who lost blows his nose in the wagered five-dollar bill, and then he spits on Randy for good measure.

Randy and the FBI agent smuggle tracking devices into Feng's compound by inserting them into their bodies. (We don't see them actually stow the devices, but we do see them walk awkwardly.) Wong rubs his posterior with a paddle. One of Randy's opponents makes motions like he's blowing him a kiss—from his backside. Wong eats noodles with the chopsticks he recently stuck up a guy's nose.

Conclusion

Noting that USA Today says "Balls of Fury makes Dodgeball look like high art," means there's little need to keep writing. This film may not live up to the obscene excesses of Superbad and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, but that doesn't mean it's shy about objectifying women, wallowing in base stereotypes and relying on sophomoric humor—in many cases, literal “punch” lines—to drum up its double-fault laughs.

Recommendation to the studio responsible: Table any and all talk of making a sequel. The world does not want or need Balls of Fury II: Revenge of the Paddle.

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