Michael Tully’s nostalgic comedy is the kind of movie you want to like. Set in 1985, it’s got all the dope tropes of the era: a picked-on hero, preppy bullies and a climactic winner-take-all competition. In fact, the film nails its mise-en-scène so completely that, were it not for some celebrity cameos (Judah Friedlander, Amy Sedaris, a pretty cool Susan Sarandon as a former Ping-Pong champ), you’d think it was an actual relic from the Reagan era.
We follow a breakdance-loving dweeb—Rad Miracle (Marcello Conte)—on vacation with his family in seaside Maryland. He has modest summer aspirations: to play as much table tennis as possible, perfect the moonwalk and get the most popular girl in town to like him. The sweet conceit is marred by underdeveloped storylines—the most egregious involving excitable new best friend Teddy (Myles Massey)—and a neither-here-nor-there randomness. The slightly off-kilter universe isn’t fully formed (à la Napoleon Dynamite), yet also feels too cartoonish for us to really engage with the characters.
Granted, there’s something charming here—Ping Pong Summer itself feels like an underdog—and there are retro touches that children of the ’80s will smile at (remember smelling the liner notes of cassettes?). But ultimately, those are too few and far between.