Ping Pong Summer is the kind of film I feel bad downplaying. It’s the latest film by writer-director Michael Tully (Septien) and isn’t so much bad as it is largely plain.
The very little seen picture is one I admittedly only watched due to its filming location; Ocean City, MD. I went to college a little over 30 minutes from the area and spent many a weekend there. For those not from the mid-Atlantic, Ocean City is a major beachside community full of your standard boardwalk standards. It has the Ferris wheel, arcades, weird locals and the like.
It’s actually the one thing Ping Pong Summer mostly nails, that of the lazy summer nights by the ocean where the mist of the water and the haze of the night make for an unearthly vibe. Shot on 16 mm film, the 1980s set movie has the aura of a different time where shoulders wielded boom-boxes and a person would try to master the mix of Cola and Cherry flavored Icees. If this was a genuinely lost release of the time period, few would be shocked.
The story is your traditional underdog tale, where a meager, shy teenaged boy (Marcello Conte) tries to make friends, get a girl and win the big game. Said boy is not interesting, nor are the friends, girl or big game. None of the characters have much in the way of depth, let alone personality. Surrounding the movie is an assortment of relatively famous people (Lea Thompson as Conte’s mom, Susan Sarandon as the town weirdo) with little to do.
At its lowest point is the romance between Conte and Emmi Shockley, your textbook cool girl who usually dates jerks. The two hang out because that’s what happens in this type of movie. It certainly feels akin to something from a cut-and-paste 80s movie of this ilk. When Shockley eventually seeks forgiveness, eyes rolled thoroughly.
It’s nice that Tully doesn’t inflict endless nostalgia or winks about its setting. Nobody jokes about the idea of MTV never playing videos or carry around giant portable phones. Still, when the second biggest positive of a film is that it doesn’t immediately go to annoying negatives, that’s no grand achievement.
There are worse movies. There are countless better ones too. Avoid unless seeing two teens carrying a bucket of Thrashers Fries is enough for you.