The Karate Kid, only with Susan Sarandon ... and ping-pong? Sold! 

Tall in the Paddle

Tall in the Paddle

In the opening scene of Ping Pong Summer, Radford "Rad" Miracle (Marcello Conte) moonwalks out of his house, looking fly as hell. He's as smooth as Michael Jackson, born to join up with New York's Rock Steady Crew. Or at least that's how it looks in his head. The camera suddenly switches perspective to a neighbor, who sees Rad for what he really is — an awkward teenager lurching around the driveway like he's having a standing seizure.

Ping Pong Summer is The Karate Kid with hindsight. Centering on an outsider visiting the beachfront tourist community of Ocean City, Md., with his family in 1985, terminal goober Rad befriends a rap-loving kid named Teddy, makes eyes at the popular girl and is immediately targeted by a duo of rich townies. These he must defeat in a climactic ping-pong match with the assistance of the town weirdo (played by Susan Sarandon). You can probably see where this is going.

Apart from Sarandon in the Mr. Miyagi role, there aren't very many surprises in Ping Pong Summer. Writer-director Michael Tully (Septien) liberally plucks plot lines, characters and tropes from movies like Breakin' and Napoleon Dynamite, while spending much of his time building signposts for his 1980s Mid-Atlantic wonderland. Tully walks a fine line between fond nostalgia and outright sarcasm throughout, cramming as much '80s ephemera into each frame as possible — from long pans over unappetizing smorgasbord buffets to an inspired montage set to the tune of "Friends Forever" by Miami Connection's Dragon Sound.

It's possible that Ping Pong Summer could have been more compelling if some of the retro diversions were eschewed in favor of more character development. Scenes featuring cameos by the likes of Judah Friedlander and Amy Sedaris are fun but do little to push the plot along, while the relationship between loner/mentor Randi Jammer (Sarandon) and Rad feels underserved. Though Rad's family gets screen time here and there — Lea Thompson steals every scene as Mrs. Miracle — they're overshadowed by the willfully over-the-top pastiche that surrounds them.

Even so, Ping Pong Summer is utterly charming fluff. Even for wretched millennials like myself with no personal connection to 1985 vacationeering, there's a lot to like in Rad's theoretical coolness and struggle against yuppie goons — even if you don't catch all of the schlock that Tully references. Newcomer Marcello Conte is no Jon Heder, but he ably holds the film on his shoulders while slouching through Ocean City as a confidence-impaired dingus. And while it may not have the emotional punch of last year's indie coming-of-age dramedy The Spectacular Now, it's a breezy film that welcomes the coming dog days with a paddle.

Note: The 9 p.m. Friday show will be preceded by a ping-pong tournament, arcade games, '80s mixtapes and giveaways. After the film, there'll be a Q&A with producer Brooke Bernard and production designer Bart Mangrum. You must have a film ticket to sign up for the ping-pong tournament; tickets available at belcourt.org.

Email arts@nashvillescene.com.

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