By Ellery Nick @
Whilst holidaying with his so embarrassing parents, hip hop loving Radical Miracle seeks the teachings of a reclusive loner to help him take down a pair of local toughs. They’ve been making moves on Rad’s dream girl Stacy Summers and fronting at his pal Teddy Fryy. Together they all find friendship, love and courage over an amusement arcade’s ping pong table.
Which sounds pretty familiar. Perhaps not ping pong, or hip hop, but we know this song beat for beat. Rad’s a nice fellow who won’t be called chicken. The girl he likes is reluctantly copping it off with the adolescent tyrant that he seeks to overthrow. To stand a chance he’ll first need to be trained by an out of place mentor. Ping Pong Summer it seems, is quite a lot like Karate Kid. But it’s okay that we know that. Knowing is the point, for this is more of a museum than a film – a lovingly recreated diorama, replete with cult classic memorabilia and back lit by gameshow clips of holiday prizes in the sun.
Putting to one side all-80s-films, Ping Pong Summer seems to want to snuggle down somewhere between Little Miss Sunshine and Napoleon Dynamite. But where those films were funny and innovatively offbeat, here the acting and dialog are wilfully poor. Eyes roll, knuckles are bit. At times the cast achieves an almost porn standard of cardboard delivery, much encouraged by their matching cast names.
It was interesting then to see whether Susan Sarandon, a counterweight from the world of actual acting, would follow suit. She plays the boy’s mentor Randi Jammer who schools him into becoming an elite ping pong player. Unfortunately her portrayal is that of a laconic smoking loner who is only going through the motions. Any true comparison suffers.
But let’s not be mean. This is a homage and once imitation confesses, the tendency is to forgive. After all, why gripe about what is clearly a time capsule experience for us to spend with our younger selves. Like internet memes that remind you how different it was when we made compilation tapes by cassette. And it was! Those mp3 skipping brats will never know. But this feels like an exercise in ticking off as many cult references as possible whilst failing to recreate the reason why those classics were enjoyable in the first place.
Shoddy acting wasn’t the thing to capture, it was the sense of contraband and hidden alien pleasures, of youth underestimated and awakening. Which this has none of and ended up feeling hackneyed rather than a homage.
At one point Emmi Shockley’s Stacy Summers did look set to liven things up with an unexpected drugs twist, but it ultimately fell flat from neglect and she became just another pretty, suspiciously old girl towing the usual pair of brainless acolytes who can’t speak because she keeps their tongues in her pockets.
It would still be a disservice however not to mention Marcello Conte’s Mr Miracle himself. His confused face is perhaps the only object of true density in this universe and successfully brings to life some of the innocent heroics of that time. We have no way of saying for certain if the young Mr Miracle knew that he was being filmed, there is an almost Truman Show-like quality to his adventure–shuffling around and slurping on slushies–whilst everyone else is only pretending and mugging him of his wooden mannerisms.
The nail-biting finale, and it should be said some of the cast took this description literally, presented the last opportunity to place all this referencing in a contemporary context and fashion a gunshot wedding to some unwitting narrative. Instead it culminated in a passable close of episode from Saved by the Bell.
There is no question that Ping Pong Summer has had a lot of carefully considered energy put into its production and for 80s’ film fans they will find a faithful rendition of their beloved decade and a story of childhood naivety. But it is not naive, it is horribly knowing. Ping Pong Summer is currently available to rent or own at
Ping Pong Summer is currently available to rent or own here at We Are Colony.