Ping Pong Summer Blu-ray Review
When I was a youth, I used to love playing ping pong. We had a ping pong table in the garage and it got plenty of use in the summer. There was a lot of spirited competition between my siblings and me and with my parents. At times it would get heated and the action was fierce. Through it all it brought the family together in one activity. PING PONG SUMMER harkens back to those days in the 80s. The nostalgia was fun too look back on, but it doesn’t quite come together for various reasons.
The film takes place in Maryland in the summer of 1985. Hip-hop music wasn’t in the mainstream quite yet, but it was bubbling to the surface. Rad Miracle (Marcello Conte) is enamored with the music and dances around to it to the wonderment of his neighbors. Rad is your typical teen. He has his insecurities. He wants to fit in and he wants desperately to be liked. Rad has an antagonistic relationship with his sister Michelle (Helena May Seabrook). Michelle is a goth kid. She is ghostly white and likes to dress in all black. Some of the funniest scenes involved people commenting on her appearance. They are being raised by their parents Mr Miracle (John Hannah) and Mrs. Miracle (Lea Thompson). The father is a state trooper, while his wife is a housewife.
Every summer the family goes to Ocean City. It is next to the beach. There are also plenty of other activities to do like miniature golf, an amusement park, an arcade and the mall. Writer/Director Michael Tully does get some of the details of this period correct. The arcade being the main hub of adolescent activity rings absolutely true. My friends and I would go there for hours on end just feeding quarters into the machines. That was our entertainment. There was no internet or cell phones to speak of. Rad becomes friends with Teddy (Myles Massey) and they go over to Fun Hub, the arcade with all the action. You had the pinball machines, video games, the fun hockey game that pitted the US versus the Russians and the ping pong table. Rad is obsessed with the game. He has his own paddle and his own style. Rad and Teddy though get confronted by Lyle (Joseph McCaughtry) and his trusty cohort Dale (Andy Riddle). Rad tries to get Lyle to leave Stacy (Emmi Shockley) alone at the arcade. Rad had spotted Stacy earlier and was deeply enamored with the blonde beauty.
This is one strange movie. It really never knows what it is. It veers wildly from comedy to drama to some psychedelic artifact from the 60s. There is a side story about Stacy’s addiction to Funk Punch. It is not as serious as portrayed. She is basically addicted to sugar and she gets sugar highs from pixie sticks in her drink. Stacy’s addiction apparently makes her wear a lot of makeup. Who knew? Then there is Michelle. She’s going through her goth phase and she’s constantly talking back to her parents. This pops up from time to time and never quite gets resolved or confronted. And we also have Susan Sarandon in the Mr. Miyagi role here. She throws out her wisdom on ping pong to Rad before his big match with the bully. Before that she is treated as this weird hermit who should be avoided.
I actually wanted more ping pong. It is in the movie title, but it’s given the back seat too often. Rad loses badly to Lyle in ping pong and gets embarrassed at the Fun Hub. This should have been the catalyst of the film. Rad challenges Lyle to a Saturday match. Rad gets instruction from Sarandon’s character over one afternoon. That relationship needed to be more sustained and longer. They had a couple brief encounters before that afternoon, so you don’t really buy into the deep connection that is shown. It has not been earned.
Tully does get the awkwardness of adolescence fairly well. Rad and Teddy fumble around the members of the opposite sex. Everyone has been there no matter how popular you are. That rang true. The mystery of the mind of a teenage girl gets portrayed quite accurately here as well. It is clear that Stacy likes Rad, but she consistently hangs around Lyle because he is cool and has a car. The character of Lyle though needed to be more edgy. I didn’t think he was dangerous enough to be an effective villain. He was fine, but I just recall the great work that James Spader and William Zabka did back in the 80s as the quintessential high school villains. Those guys just oozed smarminess and edge. Lyle was just meh.
I also will take exception to the fashions on display. There needed to be more fluorescent colors that were prevalent in this time. Loud was definitely in during those days. Tully missed an opportunity there. I thought the child actors did well since it was the first major acting job for many of them. There was a natural way about them that was refreshing in its minimalist approach to the craft that they presented. Too many times I see veteran child actors that look like they are acting and trying desperately to remember their lines.
PING PONG SUMMER is passable entertainment. It was fun to revisit the decade that I grew up in. But I just wish the story was more coherent and better put together.
PING PONG SUMMER BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: The video transfer was fine. Ocean City definitely had the 80s look to it that came through on the screen.
Audio: The sound for the Blu-ray was top notch. The actors could be heard quite well and clearly.
Lazer Beach: The Making of Ping Pong Summer (14:02): The cast and crew introduce themselves. They show how much fun they had in making this film. It’s quite the odd feature.
Commentary with Director/Screenwriter Michael Tully and Producer George Rush: This is a straightforward commentary with these men. They don’t take themselves too seriously. There are some nice nuggets to be discovered on the scenes and the genesis of the film.