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A Review By Larry Hodges On Friday, I got to see the 7:30PM showing of Ping Pong Summer at the AFI Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland. (The 400-seat theater was pretty full – at least 300 people.) There were a number of other table tennis players there. It was an excellent movie and a lot of fun, 91 minutes long. Here’s a quick intro, from their home page: “The year is 1985. Rad Miracle (Marcello Conte) is a shy 13-year-old white kid who’s obsessed with two things: ping pong and hip hop. During his family’s annual summer vacation to Ocean City, Maryland, Rad makes a new best friend, experiences his first real crush, becomes the target of rich local bullies, and finds an unexpected mentor in his outcast nextdoor neighbor (Susan Sarandon). Ping Pong Summer is about that time in your life when you’re treated like an alien by everyone around you, even though you know deep down you’re as funky fresh as it gets.” So it’s basically a coming-of-age ping pong story. Spoiler alert – don’t read further if you don’t want to learn some of the plot points! The movie begins with Rad in the back seat of the car as they drive to Ocean City. He’s got a ping pong paddle, and there’s a quick glimpse of what appears to be a book on table tennis that he’s reading. Purists may or may not appreciate that the racket, and all rackets throughout the movie, are sandpaper. Even in 1985 sponge was the dominant surface by far in “serious” table tennis, but these weren’t championship players. Rad is more of a basement player who gets caught up playing other basement players, though of course it’s not actually in a basement. They even started games by “pinging” for serve, where one player would literally toss the ball to the other side, and they’d rally four shots (P-I-N-G), and then whoever won the point got to serve first. All the players had perfect shakehand grips, and at the end decent strokes – someone was coaching them! When Rad arrives, he’s quickly befriended by Teddy, a local black kid. As both later admit, neither have any friends. So they hang out together. Rad also meets Stacy, who becomes his first crush. Teddy brings him to the local recreation center, where there are 76


all sorts of games, circa 1985, so lots of pinball. And there’s a ping-pong table. So Rad and Teddy play – but surprisingly for a kid who’s apparently obsessed with ping pong, Rad is horrible, just popping the balls back high in the air. Teddy’s no better. When Rad first arrived at the rec center, he’s made fun of by the bully Lyle and his fawning sidekick Dale, and this of course is a continuing thing, both on and off the table. It also turns out that Stacy is Lyle’s girlfriend, or sort of. When Lyle finally agrees to play Rad, he destroys him in front of everyone, skunking him 11-0, smashing winner after winner, with Dale mocking him throughout as he loudly calls out each score. Lyle is sort of like Biff from the Back to the Future movie (which also came out in 1985), but who smiles while he bullies. Dale is like Biff’s sidekicks, but a bit more verbal and more openly living his life through Lyle. There are other similarities to Back to the Future – Rad’s mom is played by Lea Thompson, who played Lorraine, mother of Marty McFly! (In that movie Marty travels back to 1955 and met his teenaged mom, who falls in love with him, and after that it gets complicated, involving Marty, Marty’s teenaged dad, and Biff.) There’s also a cameo of the DeLorean! But while the characters in the movie reminded me of Back to the Future, the plot is a bit more Karate Kid. (And Lyle has a bit of Johnny in him as well, the bad kid from Karate Kid.) When the bullies shove Rad to the ground and pour a gallon of milk on him, who shows up? Yes, it’s fisherwoman Susan Sarandon, channeling her inner Mr. Miyagi as she chases them off while brandishing a huge fish. Soon Rad breaks into her basement – hmmm – and discovers all her ping pong trophies. He asks her to help, and so begins the Karate Kid/Rocky/Batman Begins training sequences – but with a twist. Randi says, “You should be able to beat that punk after one lesson.” So she dusts off the table in her basement, and the one training session begins. She supplies him with a mini sandpaper paddle, puts up the far side of the table, and has him rally by himself, all the time with the mantra “Ball, make contact, ball, make contact, ball, make contact.” She gives other psychological advice, much of it seemingly right out

USATT Magazine Summer 2014  
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