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Ping-Pong Pow 

by ED SYMKUS & r & & r & FILM REVIEW Balls of Fury may be an action film based on ... table tennis (?), but it's a laugh-out-loud hoot & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & here's a universal need for getting away from everyday concerns -- from work, piles of bills, George W. Bush. It's important to just be able to empty your head and at least temporarily forget about it all.

Here's one way to do it.

Forget the silly title, and don't worry that you've never heard of the big shlubby guy in the lead (who looks very much like guitarist Leslie West on a bad day). When you sit down to watch Balls of Fury, a contemporary take on the world of competitive table tennis (mixed in with stories of revenge, failed dreams, sexual slavery, and the desire of a deskbound FBI agent to become an action hero), you're going to laugh.

Writers Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant are writers and actors from Reno 911!, and much of that show's sensibility is on parade here. Lennon (who also plays the film's German heavy, Karl Wolfschtagg) and Garant (who directs) appear to have the same tastes in manic, throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks comedy. They've assembled a cast that's completely willing to let it all hang out.

The story begins in 1988, at the Seoul Olympic Games, where 12-year-old wunderkind Ping-Pong player Randy Daytona (Brett DelBuono) is about to see his world collapse.

Nineteen years later, he's still amazing with a paddle -- working table tennis magic to lackadaisical matinee audiences at a dumpy Vegas restaurant -- and he's been away from competition for lo those two decades.

Now played by burly Dan Fogler (Tony winner for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, and soon to be playing Alfred Hitchcock in the film Number 13), Randy knows full well that he's a loser. When he's approached by FBI Agent Ernie Rodriguez (George Lopez) and asked to take part in a "top secret mission" that will make use of his "special skills," he's sure it's a gag.

But no, earnest (and frustrated and hobbled) Agent Rodriguez really does need Randy to help break up a weapons ring run by the mysterious Mr. Feng -- himself a former table tennis player -- by getting back into competition, working his way into Feng's upcoming tournament, and then ... OK, truth is, very little in this movie makes any sense. I watched it from beginning to end, laughing till it hurt a number of times, and I still can't figure out what the hell was supposed to happen at this tournament.

But it's the road there that gives the film its guffaw-inducing ammunition. Along with some Def Leppard overkill (both on T-shirts and in song), we meet the blind Ping-Pong teacher Master Wong (played with impeccable and unrestrained comic timing by the usually ominous James Hong), along with his niece, Ping-Pong and martial arts expert Maggie Wong (played by the sharply comic Maggie Q, who's also as lethal and gorgeous as she was in the recent Die Hard film).

Once the film settles in at the tournament, we finally meet the notorious and notoriously camera-shy Feng, as played by Christopher Walken, sporting a variety of outlandish fashion designs and hairdos. But there's something more than just the way he looks that makes this a memorable performance. Walken is the guy who's given us Nick in The Deer Hunter, Brad in At Close Range, Frank in King of New York, Robert in The Comfort of Strangers -- quite the string of foreboding characters. In recent years, he's lightened up, with great roles in Blast From the Past, Hairspray, and others. But here he's looser than a goose, spouting off brilliantly delivered inanities while looking like Liberace on acid, yet still maintaining a fearful aura.

The dialogue is silly, the table tennis action is wild (although I'd guess it's all computer-generated a la Forrest Gump), and the jokes skewer topics from blind people to gay people to pandas.

But it's Fogler, as Randy, who gives the film its boundless energy. Pitch-perfect in his presentation, he wears a combination of innocence, shock, confusion, happiness, and determination on his face, and he makes great, sweaty use of his definitely non-athletic body.

Don't expect Balls of Fury to offer a neatly tied-up conclusion or any kind life-affirming message. Just give in to all of its ridiculousness.
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