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'Balls of Fury'

"Martial Arts Ping Pong" probably sounded hilarious when pitched, and there are just enough laughs in the picture to fill a modestly amusing 30-second TV spot. But the thinness of the material becomes oppressive before the film is five minutes old — before, in fact, the leading man, a pudgy, slovenly Dan Fogler, is even introduced. He was a riot on Broadway (a Tony-winner as a contestant who spelled words with his feet in "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee"), but as an over-the-hill ping-pong champ lured into an unlikely FBI sting operation to catch a kimono-clad Christopher Walken, he's stymied by humor that rarely flies much higher than the ping-pong-paddle-to-the-groin area.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.