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Ping Pong Summer (2014)

Millennium Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/5/2014

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/24/2014

When I was growing up, my family would vacation at the beach every year. We rarely traveled anywhere else, but the annual summer trip to the beach was never missed. We would visit an area which offered everything a kid could want: the beach (obviously), water slides, an amusement park, and all kinds of junk food. Despite sunburns, sandy bathing suits, and sharing a small room with the family, the trips were always fun and I have an incredible sense of nostalgia towards them. Therefore, I'm a sucker for any movie which explores the ups and downs of a family vacation to the beach, and if that movie was to be set in the 80s -- my formative years -- it would be a classic, right? Let's explore Ping Pong Summer.

Set in 1985, Rad Miracle (Marcello Conte) is on vacation in Ocean City, Maryland with his parents (John Hannah and Lea Thompson) and his sister, Michelle (Helena May Seabrook). Rad loses hip-hop music, break dancing, and he dabbles in playing ping pong. While his family does their thing, Rad wanders the seaside town looking for something to do. He meets Teddy (Myles Massey), who takes him to Fun Hub, a local arcade which has a ping pong table. While Rad and Teddy are just trying to have fun, they run afoul of local bad guy Lyle (Joseph McCaughtry), who challenges Rad to a ping pong game. Meanwhile, Rad has noticed Stacy (Emmi Shockley), a local girl who likes to flirt. All of these elements lead Rad to a summer which he will never forget.

The plot of Ping Pong Summer may sound somewhat like The Way, Way Back, and if you've seen the trailer, you would definitely think that the two films are similar...and they are. The main difference is that The Way, Way Back looks as if it's taking place in the 80s and Ping Pong Summer actually is taking place in the 80s. The other primary difference is that The Way, Way Back centers on a teenaged boy who is dealing with family issues, where Rad is happy with his family. Ping Pong Summer focuses more on Rad's search for summertime fun.

Perhaps instead, Writer/Director Michael Tully should have been on the search for a better script. It's clear that the film is a love letter to someone's (presumably Tully's) summer vacations in Ocean City, Maryland. That's a great idea, save for the fact that the audience rarely feels that we are a part of this. I never got a handle on the geography of the area, or exactly what the main attraction is, save for the beach. The script is so rife with cliches that one can't help but wonder if the film is a homage to 80s movies or a spoof of one. The way in which Rad runs afoul of the town bully and must rise to the occasion in a challenge is straight out of many, many movies from the 80s. This was something which was masterfully spoofed in Savage Steve Holland's Better Off Dead. The cliches then go off the rails when Rad discovers his own Mr. Miyagi...except this one knows about ping pong.

So, what's in between the cliches? Not much. We follow Rad around to various locations and watch him do things, but there's no passion here. And while I'm sure that it's realistic to have Rad be awkward -- after all, he is a teenaged boy -- he's painfully awkward and watching him mumble his way through the movie becomes exhausting. The movie is made up of vignettes and the lack of a true over-arching plot hurts, as it makes it very easy for the viewer to drop out at any time. Tully tries to combine a Wes Anderson-like vibe with a very pedestrian story and the result drags at times.

While Ping Pong Summer is truly a swing and a miss, Tully shouldn't be shamed for placing heart over content. For those whole lived through the 80s, there are some small moments which will ring true here (especially one involving a cassette tape), but those smiles don't rescue the movie. I'm all for 80s nostalgia, but it needs to have some substance behind it.

Ping Pong Summer implies that parachute pants were more ubiquitous than they really were on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Millennium Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is sharp and there are no defects from the source materials. There is some slight grain on the image which is very visible in the bright, daytime scenes. The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture is slightly soft at times and the depth is about average. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The surround sound effects work well in crowd scenes and some exterior shots. The music, most notably Radís beloved hip-hop provides palpable subwoofer effects. The stereo effects are nicely detailed and show good separation.

The Ping Pong Summer Blu-ray Disc contains only two extra features. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Writer/Director Michael Tully and Producer George Rush. "Lazer Beach: The Making of Ping Pong Summer" (14 minutes) contains some behind-the-scenes footage -- very casual, candid stuff -- but it also has comments from various members of the cast and crew who talk about what it was like to work on this small film.

Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long