As syrupy sweet Ping Pong Summer is, there’s a lingering aftertaste after experiencing the nostalgia sugar rush. Maybe others will or have liked it as a novelty, but I’ve become jaded after seeing many teen movies and TV shows. This indie comedy-drama is writer/director Michael Tully a love letter to 1980s fun, but that’s all viewers get.
Our hero, Radford Miracle (Radford Conte), resembles a 1985 version of Bill Hader who’s down with hip hop. He and his quirky family — Hi, bratty New Wave-loving sister, Scottish dad, and Howard the Duck’s Lea Thompson — are on vacation in Ocean City, Maryland. Radford and his slightly cooler Black friend’s (Myles Massey) adventure involve beach and boardwalk, fun in the arcade, liking pretty girls, and meeting lame-brained bullies.
Those two standard-issue bullies indulging in cartoon bully hijinks make me yearn for the golden days of Boddy Budnick and Donkeylips from Salute Your Shorts. One resident, Randi Jammer (Susan Surandon), is the weirdo no kid wants to meet. Why? Are impressionable youngsters that intimidated by a self-sufficient middle-aged woman?
Ultimately, Radford and one of the bullies feud through ping-pong. Radford has an embarrassing game against Slim Bully, but then gains the valuable, yet unconventional, help from Ms. Jammer, the aloof Zen sage. All this leads to a climactic ping pong match where “Radical” loses badly until seeing his mentor. Afterwards, Radical gains enough confidence to use an unstoppable maneuver as bombastic as the Crane Kick. Summer is a tribute to the Hollywood teen formula; how else will it end?
Summer settles for being a pleasant imitation of old Hollywood teen comedies. No significant character growth. Radford is forever bound by his dorkiness. While gaining his family’s love, win or lose, is reassuring, his entire self-worth is tied up in winning a ping pong match. The awe of seeing Sarandon and comedic talents such as Judah Friedlander, and Amy Sedaris didn’t win me over. I would’ve preferred manic Christopher Walken as Radford’s ping pong teacher instead of detached Surandon, but that’s just me.
While Summer features a lively synth-powered hip-hop soundtrack, there’s no in-depth exploration of Black culture. Is being a rap music fan just a phase for Radford? Ah, the movie has other priorities.
Ping Pong Summer is what it is, but I love seeing Zaxxon getting a few seconds of screen time.
Seen over Amazon Instant Video. Visit the offiical website.
Not to be confused with Ping Pong Playa, a totally different movie.