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Balls of Fury (HD DVD)
Universal Studios Home Entertainment / 2007 / 91 Minutes / Rated PG-13
Street Date: December 18, 2007
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Most everyone who trekked to the theater to see 'Balls of Fury' went for one reason: Christopher Walken. The second his grinning mug showed up in the theatrical trailer earlier this year, I pointed at the screen and whispered to my wife, "I'll be there." He may not always choose the best roles, but the man is pure comic gold. On its opening weekend, as I snuggled down to finally watch 'Balls of Fury,' I knew he wouldn't let me down -- even if the flick itself turned out to be as awful as critics were saying.
One-time professional ping-pong prodigy Randy Daytona (Dan Fogler) is living out his early thirties performing bargain shows at a dirty casino in Reno. After getting himself fired, he's recruited by an FBI agent (George Lopez), who hopes to use Daytona to infiltrate the headquarters of a notorious crime lord named Feng (Christopher Walken). How does a failed table tennis legend gain access to a criminal's inner sanctum, you ask? By earning a spot in Feng's underground ping-pong tournament, of course. Ad so, with the help of a blind ping pong master named Wong (Hong Kong cinema staple James Hong) and the old man's niece Maggie (Maggie Q), Daytona will prepare to face the best of the best in a literal table tennis battle to the death.
So let's get it out of the way right up front -- 'Balls of Fury' is a nonsensical flick that hovers somewhere between parody and screwball comedy. There isn't any intelligent humor to be found and the writers stoop to every kung-fu crack, gay joke, and bodily fluid gag they can muster within the limitations of a PG-13 universe. There's certainly not much redeeming value here, very little originality, and the barebones story changes its rules more times than I care to explain. Is 'Balls of Fury' a bad film? Yep.
That being said, I have to admit that the nutty enthusiasm of the cast somehow managed to entertain me to no end. As expected, Christopher Walken lights up the screen every time he shuffles on set. Everything from his patented line delivery to his stereotypically Eastern wardrobe had me grinning from ear to ear. He snatches scenes out of the hands of his co-stars without even realizing it and sneers his way to the end. More importantly, he so effortlessly inhabits a caricature like Feng that it gives the cartoony crime lord a legitimately dangerous edge. Still, I was surprised to find the majority of Walken's scenes are limited to the last half of the movie.
For nearly forty-five minutes, Dan Fogler and his ragtag supporting cast are completely responsible for all of the film's gut busters. Fogler walks a fine line between the high-octane antics of Jack Black and the deadpan everyman shtick of Ben Stiller. Somewhere in the middle, he finds a nice balance as a lonely guy who just wants to be loved. James Hong is as endearing as ever, the cameos are packed with laughs (Thomas Lennon never fails to crack me up), and George Lopez isn't as annoying or self-referential as he usual is. As it stands, Maggie Q is the lone weak link in the performance chain, but only because her part is so terribly underwritten.
I know I'm in the minority, but I enjoyed 'Balls of Fury.' Christopher Walken is simply hilarious, while the rest of the cast earns each laugh. Yes, it blatantly borrows material from funnier flicks like 'Dodgeball,' but I wasn't expecting an original comedy or an award winner with this one from the start. All I wanted was a good time and that's exactly what I got.
This HD DVD version of 'Balls of Fury' features a beautiful 1080p/VC-1 transfer that offers a considerable improvement over the standard-def DVD. In fact, spend just one minute watching the bland, blocky flipside of this Combo HD DVD/DVD disc and you'll instantly be reminded of why you upgraded to high definition in the first place. Showcasing the film's bold colors to stunning effect, the warm red and yellow tones of the high-def transfer strengthen the image without dulling its clarity. Whether I was evaluating the fine stitched texture of the traditional Chinese garments or the frayed edges of Daytona's pants and hair, the picture's fine details were consistently impeccable. Likewise, a comfortable contrast keeps the transfer's black levels deep and its skintones natural. I didn't detect any artifacting, source noise, or edge enhancement and the image is exceedingly clean throughout the presentation.
There is a noticeable veneer of grain present in the image, but I didn't find it distracting. The CG stood out at times, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was intentionally overdone to elicit bigger laughs. That said, there are times where the high definition picture clearly reveals more than was intended. I continually spotted gaps in the sets and cheap production values that I wouldn't have noticed in standard definition. The depth of the backgrounds and locations feel claustrophobic -- for every location shot, there's an immediate cut to a obvious set, littered with bargain bin props and two dimensional lighting. While it's certainly not a technical problem of this transfer, it does take away from the overall polish of the film.
The audio package on this HD DVD edition of 'Balls of Fury' doesn't pack nearly as much oomph as the video, but it also has a lot less to work with. Featuring both a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround track (48 kHz/16-Bit/1.8 Mbps) and a Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix (1.5 Mbps), the TrueHD track is definitely the way to go.
Dialogue is crisp and well prioritized, interior acoustics are realistic, and accuracy is suitably precise. Transparent pans are essential in a movie where objects quickly fly across the soundfield, and appropriately enough they're this TrueHD track's greatest technical attribute. I could track every whiz and whoosh throughout the soundscape and I really appreciated how smoothly each sound transferred between the channels. Although the rears are engaged for ambiance and score bleed, for the most part they remain silent. There are some shoot-outs and explosions near the end of the film, but the first two acts are mainly populated by conversations and the repetitive pick-pock of ping pong balls.
In the end, the TrueHD track does a fine job with what little its given, but this certainly isn't a demo mix by any means.
The HD DVD version of 'Balls of Fury' ports over all of the supplements that appear on the concurrently-released standard DVD and presents the majority of them in high definition. Unfortunately, there's precious little here.
- Balls Out: The Making of Balls of Fury (HD, 14 minutes) -- This bland EPK sets the tone for the supplemental package as it covers the production, the idea behind the script, the casting, and the design process. This one actually made me think twice about the movie itself. While I thought the filmmakers were intentionally skewing certain aspects of the story, this surprisingly self-congratulatory making-of segment makes it seem like they were in fact aiming much higher.
- Under the Ball: Life of a Ball Wrangler (SD, 5 minutes) -- This inside joke of a featurette follows a day in the life of the woman responsible for handling the ping pong balls in the movie. Ugh.
- Deleted Scenes (HD, 7 minutes) -- The majority of the deleted scenes deal with subplots and the supporting cast. I particularly enjoyed the moments that featured Robert Patrick, but the rest were only good for a few quick laughs. They're amusing enough, but I can see why they were cut from the final film.
- Alternate Ending (HD, 2 minutes) -- Appropriately cut, this one seems out of touch with the rest of the film. Ah well, at least it's presented in high definition.
The latest HD DVD release to include web-enabled content, at press time it was pretty slim pickings online, with the studio promising just two behind-the-scenes featurettes -- "Bridge Stunt" and "Bamboo Fight." (Neither were available for advance review.) As always, before you can utilize these features, you'll need to make sure that your HD DVD player's Ethernet connection is active, and you'll also need to register online (either using your computer through Universal's web-based form, or directly via your player's remote).
The disc also includes Universal's standard MyScenes feature, which allows you to bookmark your favorite scenes for instant access on later viewings.
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I personally found 'Balls of Fury' highly entertaining, but I'm definitely in the minority, and there's no denying that is a like-it-or-hate-it affair. As an HD DVD release, this one boasts a striking video transfer and an above-average TrueHD audio track, but factoring in the slim supplements package and varying opinions of the film itself, this disc is still probably best previewed as a rental before making a final purchase decision.
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