Come of age through the veil of the 1980’s in this tired comedy
Director Michael Tully peers into the cultural demeanor of the ’80s – hulking plastic boom boxes, gleefully lined arcades, and leather pants. Cinematography eats up these icons of era exploitation, superimposing a meek coming of age comedy over the highlights of ’80s youth.
Ping Pong Summer spills an empty satirical dryness usually reserved for British comedies, if sans the wit which typically drives those foreign gems. Newcomer lead Marcello Conte speaks in mumbles as Rad Miracle, one in a bevy of naming conventions squirting cheesiness – Ace, Jammer, Trixx. They’re all borderline groaners.
Propping up on cartooned caricature, Rad spends vacation days in the surrounding neighborhoods of Ocean City, doused in neon frames and swirling with early hip hop beats. Ping Pong’s awkwardness has a drive to be charming until it churns out raw awkwardness instead. Rad’s actions, in conjunction with an equally oddball impromptu friend Teddy (Myles Massey) elicit winces, not comedy.
Tully, who writes and directs, fill this feature with comfortable plotting. It’s part vacation cinema with inopportune family encounters, part sports schlock with an aimless one-off ping pong challenge, and thirdly a weary seasonal escapade without an aim. Ping Pong is crushed with immediacy by pacing strangulation, trying to elicit the quiet independent spirit but soon misfires as cameras wash over Rad’s routine.
Connection problems keep Rad’s story in narrative limbo, repeatedly grazing teenage romance with Stacy (Emmi Shockley) and inserting a minimalist mentor in Susan Sarandon come the third act if only to find something concrete to close with. Closure comes from all sides, with projected growth coming to fruition and an obnoxiously flimsy villain being served (literally) his comeuppance. In a search for sweetness and ’80s indulgence, Ping Pong loses itself with aimless execution.
Built on 16mm for an appreciably grainy edge, this AVC encode from Millennium has work ahead of it, mostly keeping this complex material in view. Grain in general appears as if actually grain. Those few glimpses of compression churning this film stock toward noise are few, with opening sequences amongst the offending. A quick clearing up allows a return to normalcy while letting this sharp film stock breathe.
Behind the source’s natural look is an admirable level of fidelity, close-ups stout in producing definition and Ocean City shines for the lens. Locations are crisp and the sizzling glow of CRT arcade game screens are gorgeous. Mastering work allows for a minor level of specks and other print anomalies to show, probably intent rather than mishandling.
Color depth is striking, with a blitz of red and blues hanging over vivid flesh tones. Beach fronts dazzle with spectacular arrays of umbrellas, and fashion of the day pushes a multitude of stunning richness. This locale does not hurt. From heavy sun rises to clashing neon, Ping Pong shows an aptitude for saturation.
However, things are restricted and hurt by contrast which pales, probably in attempt to fashionably dilute the look and artificially add age. Black levels sit in a realm of paleness, usually brownish, and lack oomph. No matter how much strength is given to the color range, a flatness permeates over each shot.
Sound design is lightly scattered to add ambiance, and strong with passing boom boxes or car stereos. Beaches hold splashing water coming to shore in proper channels, if weakly so anywhere other than the center. Table tennis clashes sweep the fronts, and some arcade atmosphere is mildly implanted in each speaker.
Ping Pong’s opportunity to shine is a club, with LFE pulled from some limited appeal ’80s pop hits. Music swells and takes over the entirety of the sound field. Mixing pulls these marginal songs into the forefront throughout, if not to the effect of the club. The real challenge here is keeping Marcello Conte’s drowsy dialog delivery lifted high enough, which it does.
Writer/director Michael Tully pairs with producer George Rush for a commentary track, with the disc moving forward with a pleasingly brisk making-of titled Lazer Beach. Raw set footage, bits of comedy funnier than the main feature, and open interviews are well constructed during this 14-minute piece. Some trailers are left.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.