A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
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: The main character is avenging his father's death at the hands of a murderous -- if seemingly ridiculous -- letch. There are also Chinese stereotypes (one character carries a lucky cricket and dispenses with enemies using chopsticks) 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, but it's still sex-and-body-part based.
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What's the story?
In BALLS OF FURY , venerable actor Christopher Walken plays Feng, a millionaire ping-pong 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 Rodriquez (George Lopez) -- are after him. Enter Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler), a has-been ping-pong prodigy who once nearly medaled at the Olympics -- he's "the golden boy who couldn't even bronze" -- but lost to an outrageously aggressive German athlete, Karl Wolfschtagg (Thomas Lennon). The defeat left Randy's father, a gambler who owed money to Feng, dead by the arms dealer's hand. But instead of avenging his dad's death, Randy grows up to become a loser who does ping-pong tricks at dive bars where no one cares, or even knows, that they're in the presence of an athlete. Randy finally gets his chance to face down Feng when Rodriguez recruits him for the FBI's mission. But 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 clichés, and his alluring-but-tough niece, Maggie (Maggie Q) -- who both have major axes to grind with Feng, too.
Is it any good?
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 super-silly-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.
Walken's a delight, but it's Fogler who makes this whole enterprise somewhat worthwhile. He's boorish but likable, a Jack Black in the making. He floats through the absurdity with ease, able to battle an 8-year-old ping-pong master dubbed "the Dragon" without being over-the-top, even though the material is. (The movie was written by Reno 911! veterans Lennon and director Ben Garant, who, having found a way to make ping-pong seem as thrilling as it can be, should work for ESPN.)
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about 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, or are they merely mirroring what actually exist? Do you think ping-pong could be that hyper-competitive? What other sports looks calm when in fact they aren't?
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