×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Ping Pong Summer’

Michael Tully's third feature is a sweetly amusing ode to underdog sports movies like 'The Karate Kid' and the decade that spawned them.

With:
Marcello Conte, Myles Massey, Emmi Shockley, Joseph McCaughtry, Andy Riddle, Helena Seabrook, Maddie Howard, Gibril Wilson, Judah Friedlander, Robert Longstreet, Amy Sedaris, Lea Thompson, John Hannah, Susan Sarandon.

Mixing one part good-natured mockery to two parts affectionate ’80s nostalgia, with a dash of Pixy Stix powder for good measure, “Ping Pong Summer” is a sweetly amusing ode to the underdog sports movies that proliferated during that widely derided decade. But writer-director Michael Tully largely steers clear of derision in this table-tennis-themed homage to “The Karate Kid,” achieving a winning innocence of spirit in which performances and production design are all perfectly synched to his low-key comic vision. A bit woozy and repetitive over its 91-minute running time, the Gravitas Ventures pickup will be a modest B.O. performer but should mark commercial progress for Tully after his microbudget features “Cocaine Angel” and “Septien.”

Young Emile Hirsch lookalike Marcello Conte plays Rad Miracle (no joke), a socially awkward, dim-but-likable kid who spends most of his time perfecting his Michael Jackson dance moves and playing pingpong in his garage. It’s 1985, and after a fittingly retro credits sequence (producers’ names spinning on vinyl, that sort of thing), we catch up with Rad spending his last summer before high school in sunny Ocean City, Md., along with his cheerfully un-hip parents (Lea Thompson, John Hannah) and sullen goth-girl sister (Helena Seabrook).

Walking around this idyllic world of beaches and boardwalks, Rad winds up at the local arcade, where he promptly stumbles on every coming-of-age cliche in the book. He finds a new best friend in the outgoing Teddy (Myles Massey, rocking a fro, a tank top and no shortage of bling), and falls for the pretty, popular Stacy Summers (Emmi Shockley). He also becomes a regular punching bag for bullying rich kid Lyle (Joseph McCaughtry), who decides to humiliate Rad by challenging him to an epic pingpong match.

Will Rad muster up the courage he needs to stand up for himself, beat the bully and kiss the girl? Not without the help of an eccentric mentor — that would be Randi Jammer (a wonderfully game Susan Sarandon), a reclusive neighbor who spends most of the movie’s first half brandishing cleavers and fishhooks before revealing herself as just the person to bring out Rad’s inner champion. Randi’s training-montage refrain of “Ball making contact, ball making contact” may not join “Wax on, wax off” in the ’80s-movie lexicon, but Sarandon brings just the right note of flinty, tough-talking authority to the role, her star presence anchoring an ensemble consisting primarily of newcomers and character thesps.

The plotting in “Ping Pong Summer” is desultory and predictable, the white-trash beach-town humor often draggy and one-note. (A long panning shot of a neverending buffet line seems to add five minutes to the running time alone.) At the same time, those lackadaisical qualities feel entirely appropriate, even germane, to the film’s easy-to-lampoon, easy-to-love milieu. Even when the movie’s energy flags, its charm somehow never does, pulling us into a nostalgic haze that feels no less pleasant for being somewhat lazy and indulgent. By the end, you may wish there had been fewer images of perms and short shorts; then again, you might also experience a sudden craving for an Icee and some Pop Rocks.

Clearly having a ball, Tully and his gifted collaborators (among them production designer Bart Mangrum and costume designer Stephani Lewis) put across their spot-on period re-creation with a disarmingly straight face, in part by filtering everything we see through their protagonist’s wide-eyed naivete. Feature first-timers Conte and Massey make a naturally endearing duo as Rad and Teddy, and Thompson and Hannah are no less winning as Rad’s sensible, salt-of-the-earth parents. The decade-appropriate likes of the Fat Boys, Mary Jane Girls and New Edition figure prominently on the soundtrack, much of which emanates from the many boomboxes that are carted around throughout.

Film Review: 'Ping Pong Summer'

Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Next), Jan. 23, 2014. (Also in SXSW Film Festival.) Running time: 91 MIN.

Production: A Gravitas Ventures release of a Nomadic Independence and Epic Match Media presentation in association with Compass Entertainment and Indie Entertainment. Produced by Billy Peterson, Michael Gottwald, Jeffrey Allard, Brooke Bernard, Ryan Zacarias, George M. Rush. Executive producers, Wally Hall, Marcus Dean Fuller, Julie S. Fuller, Michael Ferris Gibson, Andrew Russo, Dominic Fortunato. Co-producer, Holly Herrick. Co-executive producer, Steven Beer.

Crew: Directed, written by Michael Tully. Camera (color), Wyatt Garfield; editor, Marc Vives; music, Michael Montes; music supervisor, Jonathan McHugh; production designer, Bart Mangrum; art director, Bob Weisz; set decorator, Joie Todd Kerns; costume designer, Stephani Lewis; sound, Alex Altman; supervising sound editor, Angie Yesson; re-recording mixers, Yesson, Zach Martin; special effects, Drew Bourdet; visual effects, Chris Connolly; associate producers, Steve Bannatyne, Jim Guyer, Andrew Krucoff, Danielle J. Colombo, Kamran Moghtaderi, Dariush Pouraghabagher, Jonathan McHugh; assistant director, Cedric Vara; casting, Pat Moran.

With: Marcello Conte, Myles Massey, Emmi Shockley, Joseph McCaughtry, Andy Riddle, Helena Seabrook, Maddie Howard, Gibril Wilson, Judah Friedlander, Robert Longstreet, Amy Sedaris, Lea Thompson, John Hannah, Susan Sarandon.

More Film

  • Glass Movie

    Box Office: M. Night Shyamalan's 'Glass' Cracks $3.7 Million on Thursday Night

    M. Night Shyamalan’s “Glass” cracked $3.7 million at 3,200 North American sites on Thursday night. Universal’s “Glass” brings together the narratives of Shyamalan’s “Unbreakable,” which was released in 2000, and 2016’s “Split.” The supernatural thriller unites stars Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, James McAvoy, and Sarah Paulson. The film is set to open in 3,841 [...]

  • Indie Sales Acquires Berlinale-Bound Coming-of-Age Drama

    Indie Sales Acquires Berlinale-Bound Coming-of-Age Drama 'A Colony'

    Paris-based company Indie Sales has acquired the coming-of-age drama “A Colony” which will be making its international premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in the generation section. “A Colony” marks the feature debut of Geneviève Dulude-De Celles, whose short film “The Cut” won a prize at Sundance in 2014. More Reviews TV Review: 'Conversations With [...]

  • Bac Launches 'Alice And The Mayor,'

    Bac Launches 'Alice and the Mayor,' 'My Days of Glory' at UniFrance Rendez-Vous (EXCLUSIVE)

    Paris-based Bac Films is launching a slate of new acquisitions at the UniFrance Rendez-Vous in Paris, including Nicolas Pariser’s “Alice And The Mayor” with Fabrice Luchini, and Antoine de Bary’s concept comedy “My Days of Glory” with Vincent Lacoste. “Alice And The Mayor” stars Luchini as Paul Théraneau, a prominent French mayor who has run [...]

  • Viacom International Studios New Management Structure

    Federico Cuervo to Head New Management Structure at Viacom International Studios

    Viacom International Media Networks (VIMN) –Americas has announced a new management structure for its fast-expanding Viacom International Studios (VIS) which will see Federico Cuervo filling the role of senior vice president-head of VIS, reporting to Darío Turovelzky, newly named SVP of global contents at VIMN Americas. Turovelzky remains co-chief of VIMN. Under the new structure, [...]

  • Berlin: Edko Films Picks up Zhang

    Berlin: Edko Films Picks Up Zhang Yimou’s ‘One Second’

    Hong Kong studio Edko Films has picked up international rights to “One Second,” the newest movie by top Chinese director Zhang Yimou. The film will have its world premiere in competition in Berlin, it was announced this week. “One Second” is pitched as Zhang’s personal love letter to cinema, and as a return to his [...]

  • Sygeplejeskolen sc 205

    Claudia Boderke, Lars Mering Talk SF Studios ‘The New Nurses’

    The inevitable comparison for SF Studios’ “The New Nurses,” at least from a Danish broadcast perspective, is “Something’s Rockin,’” another 2018 TV 2 Charlie show which was retro but forward-looking. “Something’s Rockin’” described the birth of an independent radio with culture in Denmark. Produced by SF Studios’ Senia Dremstrup (“Norskov”),  “The New Nurses” talks cleverly [...]

  • Robert Redford

    Robert Redford to Receive Honorary Cesar Award

    Legendary American actor and director Robert Redford is set to receive an honorary Cesar award, France’s equivalent of the Oscars, at the 44th annual Cesar ceremony, which will take place Feb. 22 in Paris. “An iconic actor, an exceptional director, a passionate producer, founder and president of Sundance, the most revered festival of independent films [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content