‘Ping Pong Summer’ takes finely focused portrait of subject matter

Lea Thompson, center, and John Hannah in "Ping Pong Summer."
June 15, 2014

There is a niche market to which “Ping Pong Summer” will have particular poignancy and resonance. For those fellow children of the ‘80s, there are the traditional callbacks - Mister Mister on the soundtrack, oversized boom boxes, the smell of a new cassette tape case, parachute pants - that will appeal to those of us who were growing up right around that time.

Another market that would get more from this movie is those who spent summer vacations at the beach and remember all the romance and radical times had at the arcade, amusement parks, and at (or under) the boardwalk.

But for those of us who grew up in or near the Ocean City, Md. area, be prepared for a nostalgia overload. Everything from Dumser’s to Hooper’s Crab House, from the under-21 dance club H2O to endless rounds of mini golf, the film knows its setting (both location and era) quite well, and is steeped in shout-outs to that place in time. “Ping Pong Summer” has been a pet project of writer/director Michael Tully for quite some time, and it shows. It may seem like a featherweight “Karate Kid” clone, but there seems to be much more lurking in the background to suggest that this was more than just a chance for the cast to rummage through ‘80s-era fashion atrocities.

For example, our hero’s name is “Rad” Miracle (played by newcomer Marcello Conte), an obvious reference to the famous 80s-era bike racing classic. Rad’s mother is played by none other than '80s stalwart Lea Thompson, and even features a DeLorean in the background (two can play at that game, Seth McFarlane!). And one of the songs featured is “Friends Forever,” from the penultimate film in '80s cheesiness, “Miami Connection.” In fact, the film feels like a more straightforward film from those of cult '80s director “Savage” Steve Holland, he of “Better Off Dead” and “One Crazy Summer” fame.

The micro-budgeted “Ping Pong Summer” is nowhere near as esoteric (for example, there are no dancing animated hamburgers), but it possesses the same underlying sweetness that set Holland’s films apart.

And despite its tiny budget, “Ping Pong Summer” gets a much-needed boost from a seasoned cast of talent, including Susan Sarandon in a Ms. Miyagi-style role as a zen ping pong master, John Hannah as Rad’s working-class cop father, and a too-brief cameo from the always-welcome Amy Sedaris, who can still rock a swimsuit.

Sure, it’s easy to find fault with some of the acting of some of the younger cast members, and those who are not as entrenched in the beach or Ocean City culture may find themselves a bit on the bored side from time to time, but whether it's lovingly jabbing the the sports- and teen-themed films of its era, or focusing on the central character’s quest to fit in as a townie and experience first love, “Ping Pong Summer” takes a finely focused portrait of its subject matter. In fact, it’s a picture that would be suitable for placing in a tiny telescopic keepsake keychain memento (those who ever had one know exactly what I’m talking about) to be admired. “Ping Pong Summer” is also available on Amazon Streaming and VOD.

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