“Ping Pong Summer”: Coming of Age Among Little White Balls

As a critic for film site Hammer to Nail, Michael Tully keeps the indie-movie home fires burning. As the writer and director of this particular film, he comes weirdly close to snuffing the fire out. Set in 1985 in Ocean City, Md. (famous in these parts for being at the other end of U.S. Highway 50), Ping Pong Summer seems very long ago and far away. Deep within the doldrums of family vacation, a meek white boy in parachute pants acquires a black-sidekick pal, an arcade to hang out in, a love interest, a bully, and a climactic ping-pong battle by which to conquer all. Susan Sarandon is on hand as a dead-fish-wielding motivation coach, as is Amy Sedaris and her talent for being incapable of embarrassment. It's got sweet soundtrack beats and a fond litany of suburban summer boyhood memories — mini golf, soda-fountain “suicides,” the sweet smell of cassette-tape liner notes — but becomes essentially a boom box blare of lifeless kitsch. With an approximately equal distribution of over-the-top and under-the-bottom line readings, Tully's listless, straight-faced slog through coming-of-age clichés starts to feel like it must be a gag. Is this a cautionary tale about what can happen when midnight-movie fare becomes a cottage industry? Is it secretly an After-School Special made by Tommy Wiseau and retrospectively proclaimed as satirical indictment of the cultural shallows of Reagan's America? Well, anyway, is it almost over?

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