I am probably not the most objective person to be reviewing the table tennis documentary “Top Spin,” since I used to play competitively as a kid. But then again, I was mediocre and this film is about Olympics-bound kids. Still, the rat-a-tat of the paddles hitting those featherlight balls brought back those days to me.
Directors Mina T. Son and Sara Newens followed three young competitors – two-time US Women’s Champion Ariel Hsing; Lily Zhang, another phenom; and Michael Landers, at 15, the youngest US men’s champion. Will any or all of them make it to the 2012 London Olympics? Weary as I am of documentaries built around competitions, this one is charming because the three teens, especially the girls, are so radiantly intense about the sport. And yes, you doubters, it is a sport. You’ll learn all about topspins, underspins, and side spins. You’ll also learn about that most dreaded and annoying of table-tennis adversaries, the “chopper.” This is the player who doesn’t do anything except rebound all your shots until you eventually make a mistake. Those guys used to drive me nuts. Glad to know Ariel, Lily, and Michael aren’t too crazy about them, either. Grade: B (This film is not rated.)