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Ping Pong Summer

Ping Pong Summer
Directed by: Michael Tully
Released on: January 18th, 2014 | Sundance Film Festival 2014
Grade: 2 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: John Esther

Perhaps the most conventional film screened at this year's Sundance Film Festival, the third feature film from writer-director Michael Tully (Cocaine Angel; Septien) relays an all-too-familiar story about a young teenage boy who goes through a transformation during one summer vacation at the beach.

Rad Miracle (Marcello Conte) is an awkward 13-year-old boy into rap music, popping and breakdancing. He is not very good at it, but that does not stop him from working his moves on a regular basis. Rad is also not very good at table tennis, but that does not stop him from walking around with a ping pong paddle — maybe because it matches his red parachute pants?

Like every year, Rad, his parents (John Hannah and Lea Thompson), and his "too cool to have fun" older sister, Michelle (Helena May Seabrook), are vacationing at Ocean City, Maryland. Since dad's state trooper budget has been stretched a little thin, the Miracles' accommodations are not as nice as usual. Michelle complains whereas Rad could care less. Rad is so rad.

Eager to get out and see the sights, it is not long before Rad meets his summer sidekick, Teddy (Myles Massey); the popular, yet messed up, girl of the neighborhood, Stacy Summers (Emmi Shockley); the rich bully, Lyle Ace (Joseph McCaughtry); and the bully's doting sidekick, Dale (Andy Riddle). Later will come that eccentric mentor who will show Rad the winning ways of table tennis (SPiN co-owner Susan Sarandon).

In between and beyond, the story moves along in its predictable manner, where Rad and Teddy will fight and then bromance; Stacy will face her dilemma between bad boy Lyle and nice boy Rad before choosing our protagonist; the classic showdown between hero and anti-hero with its comforting conclusion; and even Michelle will learn to crack a smile.

Despite the rudimentary storyline (and awful soundtrack), there a are few extraordinary aspects to the film. First is the performance by Andy Riddle, who delivers the film's best lines perfectly (it was reminiscent of Mark Wahlberg in The Departed, yet on a smaller level). Riddle's performance is all the more notable when compared to the other young performers in the film. Then there is Wyatt Garfield's cinematography, which captures the atmosphere of the place and time quite well. Other highlights include a young teenager's seemingly random dive, climb and smile; a hilarious moment from Casey Kasem doing a song dedication; and Sarandon guzzling a big old mug of beer.

Hardly a groundbreaking cinematic experience, Ping Pong Summer is more suited for a springtime home rental than catching it at the theaters.

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