Judge Patrick Naugle is no Forrest Gump.
It's the time of his life.
Meet the Miracles: Candall (Lea Thompson, Back to the Future) and Brendan Miracle (John Hannah, The Mummy Returns), their punk-loving daughter, Michelle (Helena May Seabrook in her first film role), and their son, Rad (Marcello Conte, also in his first feature film). The foursome is heading to Ocean City for a summer vacation that's going to put the 'fun' back into 'dysfunctional'. Once away from his family, Rad meets a young counterparty named Teddy (Myles Massey), and the two engage in some ping pong at the local arcade. However, Rad must contented with a couple of bullies (Andy Riddle and Joseph McCaughtry), and that means getting his skills in shape for the ping pong match of his life. With the help of a local weirdo named Randi Jammer (Susan Sarandon, Thelma and Louise) and a hopeful romance waiting in the wings, Rad must prove himself on the ping pong court in what will be the summer of his life.
Everything just needs time to be appreciated. Nobody really cared about the 1980s until they were gone…and now, twenty five years after the decade closed its doors, the 1980s are back with a vengeance. Idyllic, fun, happening…those ten years are revered by filmmakers, and maybe rightly so. The 1980s offered up a lot of classic movies, rocking music, and terribly awesome fashions. Who wouldn't have wanted to be a part of the decade that spawned Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and Sixteen Candles?
While writing this review, I spent a bit of time online reading what other reviewers thought of Ping Pong Summer. The critics seem to be evenly split on the film; some praised the film for its throwback nature while others felt it was just a lot of 1980s hokum thrown haphazardly at the screen. The truth is that Ping Pong Summer seems to be in love with itself, or at the very least in love with the idea of what it strives to be. Here's a movie that weeps like a beggar on the doorstep of 1985.
Ping Pong Summer may have felt a lot fresher and funnier had it not been preceded by the far wittier The Way Way Back. The films share more than a bit of similarity—each is about a family that goes on vacation, and one young boy's inspirational summer of finding himself. There's misunderstood youth, a summer romance, and an airy, waterfront setting. Unfortunately for Ping Pong Summer, The Way Way Back not only came first but did it better. That particular film was littered with rich, funny characters and a lead performance by Liam James as a young teenager coming into his own. Conversely, Ping Pong Summer feels like a cheap and less witty version—it's got the right building blocks, just not the appropriate execution. As a film reviewer I tried hard not to compare two films, but when they are as closely associated as these, it's hard not to.
One of the biggest flaws inherent to Ping Pong Summer is the fact that it's difficult to capture lightning in a bottle. What made most '80s movies great is the fact that they were made during the decade. When you try to replicate that same feel and aura in 2014, it just comes of as a copy of a copy. The actors try their hardest (including '80s staple Lea Thompson and Oscar nominee Susan Sarandon who couldn't be funny if she tried), but there's something off about the film's beats, as if everyone is just a pace too slow. The performances aren't memorable, even with the likes of Strangers with Candy's Amy Sedaris and 30 Rock's Judah Friedlander trying hard to ratchet up the funny. The film is predictable, although I think that's the point—director Michael Tully (this is his first feature) meant Ping Pong Summer to be an homage to the 1980s, and if you've seen any of John Hughes' films, you'll know exactly how it ends.
Ping Pong Summer is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition. The transfer is generally very excellent with bright, bold colors and deep black levels. Except for the smallest amount of DNR, this transfer is near perfect. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround in English. This audio mix is very good with a lot of classic '80s songs (although not too classic since it was a low budget shoot) coming in through the side and rear speakers. Also included on this disc is a Dolby Digital 2.0 mix in English, as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
Extra features include a commentary track by director Michael Tully and producer George Rush, as well as a short featurette on the making of the film ("Lazer Beach: The Making of Ping Pong Summer).
There are some good things to be found in Ping Pong Summer. There are moments when the film truly gets the time period right with spot on music cues and fashions that jump right out of 1985. Yet as a cohesive whole the film just didn't work for me. Spend your time more wisely and check out The Way Way Back instead, or you'll be way way disappointed.
This one should be paddled.
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