Review: ‘Ping Pong Summer’ serves up ‘80s without the fun nostalgia

Writer-director Michael Tully’s self-described “deeply, deeply personal” coming-of-age comedy “Ping Pong Summer” is a ho-hum memory piece that could have used a bit more objectivity, not to mention depth and energy.

The movie is inspired by Tully’s childhood summer vacations spent with his family in Ocean City, Md. Shot entirely in that crab-centric coastal resort, the film slavishly re-creates the look, feel and sound of its 1985 setting. But despite the visual and cultural accuracy, “Ping Pong Summer” is missing an elemental magic and vibrancy; a kick factor that makes the picture’s endless pop throwbacks (break dancing, cassette tapes, giant boom boxes) seem more tackily forgettable than sweetly nostalgic.

Tully’s proxy here is Radford “Rad” Miracle (Marcello Conte), a hangdog 9th-grader with dweeby parents (Lea Thompson and John Hannah), a moody goth of a sister (Helena Seabrook) and a self-conscious interest in hip-hop and table tennis. And it’s the latter semi-skill that Rad will ultimately use to battle local irritant Lyle (Joseph McCaughtry), a privileged jerk with a doofus henchman (Andy Riddle), who has it out for Rad from the get-go.

With the help of his ebullient, Jheri-curled new best friend Teddy (an endearing Myles Massey) and town eccentric Randi (a former table tennis champ played by ping-pong enthusiast Susan Sarandon), Rad gears up for the predictable match against Lyle. Lyle’s ex-squeeze Stacy (Emmi Shockley), a comely townie with an eye for Rad, also factors in.

Rad builds up a fair amount of goodwill along the way, which keeps us squarely in his corner. Still, most characters are thin, too many bits fall flat and, at least as presented here, ping-pong does not a scintillating summer make.



“Ping Pong Summer.”

MPAA rating: None.

Running time: 1 hour, 32 minutes.

Playing: At Sundance Sunset Cinema, West Hollywood; AMC Universal CityWalk Stadium 19, Universal City.