"Ping Pong Summer" envisions a time when a kid's biggest worry was showing off at the local arcade, when a beach-side cookout with your weird relatives could become the stuff of family legend, when friends were all that really mattered and appearing cool was the toughest challenge a guy could face.
Sounds like life in Ocean City, Md., doesn't it? And that's exactly what it is…
Suffused with all the warmth '80s nostalgia could possibly engender, director Michael Tully's ode to ocean-side living in the era of Ronald Reagan, "Space Invaders" and "Miami Vice" is perhaps overly affectionate and could use a little more zing in its step. Still, it nicely captures a time and a place, and invokes a spirit familiar to anyone who's ever taken a family vacation.
Thirteen year-old Rad Miracle (Marcello Conte, like all the young principals a relative screen newcomer) has come with his family to Ocean City for their annual vacation. Over the course of his stay, he'll make a new friend, meet a cute girl, tick off the town bully, find an unlikely protector in the town oddball and vie for the crown of town Ping-Pong champ. All in a summer's work, right?
Young Rad suffers from the effects of not having the self-confidence to be cool, or the bluster to at least appear to be cool. Lucky for him, he quickly finds a simpatico friend in hip hop fan Teddy Fryy (Myles Massey), who becomes his faithful sidekick. Unlucky for him, he quickly earns the scorn of bully Lyle Ace (Joseph McCaughtry). And maybe lucky, maybe not lucky for him, he catches the eye of pretty Stacy Summers (Emmi Shockley), who's sort-of Lyle's girl, and you all know where this is leading, right?
Rad and Lyle decide to have at it over a game of Ping Pong, winner take all. Not that Rad is much good (Lyle is, of course), but he soon makes an unlikely friend in weird old Randi Jammer (Susan Sarandon). She's the crazy lady everyone is supposed to be avoid, but who knew she was a former Ping Pong champ?
Think equal parts "The Karate Kid" and "Sixteen Candles," with a smidgen of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" thrown in.
The events of "Ping Pong Summer" are almost secondary to the spirit the movie captures, and those who missed growing up in the '80s – either because they're too young or too old – might not experience the same enchantment. But then again, outside of a few external trappings, one suspects that being a kid on summer vacation is happily the same as it ever was.
Tully grew up in Mount Airy and knows well the teen-age pot of gold lying at the eastern terminus of U.S. 50. "Ping Pong Summer" contains little in the way of surprises, and there are times when Tully's script should be more pointed or wicked than sentimental. But for a trip down memory lane, the film delivers on its easygoing promise.
Stars: 2.5 out of 4
MPAA rating: None (some mild language, innuendo, bullying)
Running time: 1:32
Opens: June 6