Leading man Dan Fogler first burst onto the world stage in of all places, Broadway. He’s appeared in productions like “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” and “The Voyage of the Carcass” (winning the prestigious theater award for the former).
“Dan, in his Broadway show, gave as funny a performance as we’ve ever seen, so we knew he’d be very funny in our movie,” says director Robert Ben Garant.
Balls of Fury producers Roger Birnbaum and Gary Barber concur, “The actor playing Randy had to be highly physical, intelligent and charming. It was Dan Fogler who best met all of those criteria.”
Fogler has now given up the “great white way” to take a walk on the wild side. In B.O.F., he plays Randy Daytona, the once-promising Olympic Ping-Pong champion of the universe.
After an embarrassing childhood defeat at the uber-nazi hands of opponent Karl Wolfschtagg (Thomas Lennon), Randy goes underground, playing to dinner theater audiences. That’s where he’s recruited by the FBI – yeah, that’s what I said – the FBI.
He must infiltrate an underground Ping-Pong tournament led by everyone’s favorite aging hipster, Christopher Walken. Along the way, Randy stumbles into a relationship with summer movie vixen, Maggie Q. She was Timothy Olyphant’s butt-kicking lady-friend in Live Free or Die Hard, but here, she plays the niece of Randy’s mentor.
Balls of Fury harkens back to the slapstick comedies of the ’80s, like the Police Academy and Airplane! franchises that placed crazy characters in over-the-top scenarios. Unlike 2007’s other comedies (Knocked Up, Superbad, The Ten), B.O.F. is nowhere near thought provoking.
Its most awkward characters aren’t brainy and sarcastic; they’re stupid and great for a cheap laugh. That’s what makes this movie refreshing.
“We like to look at silly things in a serious way, and serious things in a silly way,” confesses screenwriter/costar Lennon.
That funny formula is executed flawlessly by him and Garant, two talented former members of – you guessed it – “The State.” These alums are now brightening Comedy Central’s lineup with “Reno: 911!” but have gone back to basics for their latest summer movie contribution. “Tom and Ben are so funny, and so intelligent in their humor,” says Maggie Q. “On the set, you can feel this chemistry between the two of them, in that they care about their material and also respect each other’s opinions.”
Lennon and Garant aren’t the only smart comics on board this project. Actress/comedienne Aisha Tyler (“Friends”) sheds her Dartmouth grad reputation to play Mahogany, Walken’s sexpot sidekick. She slinks around onscreen in a manner that’s equal parts sexy and outrageous.
But the most noteworthy aspect B.O.F. has to offer are those stellar Ping-Pong matches. For nearly a century, Americans have been hip to this fun game of manual dexterity.
The popularity of this sport spread quickly throughout the world. It was even responsible for breaking down the political wall between China and the U.S. during the Nixon administration. That impressive history was not to be trifled with, so the filmmakers enlisted the services of two legendary table tennis players: Wei Wang and Diego Schaaf. Wang is an Olympic bronze medalist in the sport and had some very decisive views on teaching the sport to the stars of the film.
“To play,” she says, “you need to develop a stroke and a serve, and to learn how the ball spins. You also learn how to create your own trajectory as you serve the ball – trying to make it a little difficult for your opponent to see clearly, while getting the ball served fast.”
Schaaf agrees, “Hand-eye coordination is very important, and so is the mental aspect, because there is very little time for your strategic decisions; you hit the ball, and you have about a third of a second until the other player hits the ball.”
These champs created strict training regimens to get the stars of the film into tip top shape to make them believable for the big screen. Ping-Pong players were even hired as extras and would supply the actors with free advice whenever possible. All that hard work and attention paid off; Fogler and the rest of the cast are – dare I say – awesome in their match scenes.
“At first, they put me up against a Ping-Pong ball-spitting machine which was both ridiculous and intense. I hadn’t played Ping-Pong since I was 11 or so, in my parents’ basement. But now, I can beat some of my friends,” admits Fogler.
Physical authenticity aside, the truly clever thing about this comedy is that it’s visually fun. Every character in Balls of Fury is like a cartoon character. Walken’s Feng is a supposed underground crime lord, but looks more like a Chinese drag queen.
Walken still defends his costumes: “Feng is obviously a show-off,” he says. “But he has to be, doesn’t he? He’s a villain, so I wore different wigs, different colors of kimonos. It’s the kind of guy Feng is.”
Terry Crews, who stole the show a few years ago in White Chicks is back and nuttier than ever as Freddy Fingers, a table tennis pro with a few tricks up his sleeve. But perhaps the most lovable character within the movie is the one that you’re supposed to hate: Lennon’s Wolfschtagg.
He can best be described as the Terminator’s flamboyant younger brother. Decked out in a skintight leotard and spiky platinum blonde hair, he prances around and angrily serves up hardcore belly laughs ... along with a fierce match point.
Even Fogler is good for some on-camera glam. He struts his manly stuff to one of the greatest metal jams in the history of music: “Rock of Ages” by Def Leppard.
“There were a number of big-hair bands in the ’80s, but Def Leppard was the real deal. We love how they epitomize that period, and we loved the idea of Randy unapologetically still loving the same music he rocked out to when he was 12,” says Garant.
In a summer full of heart-wrenching dramas, it’s so nice to see that comedy is back and better than ever. There’s no doubt that anybody looking for a good time won’t discover this movie and make it the instant classic it deserves to be.
Balls of Fury releases in theaters Aug. 31.