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“Ping Pong Summer” is a friendly puppy of a movie. It’s clumsy and bumbling but disarmingly sweet in spirit.

Set in a nothing-special Maryland beach resort in 1985, it’s a coming-of-age piece about a geeky adolescent (Marcello Conte) who becomes pals with another nerdy kid (Myles Massey); develops a crush on a seemingly unattainable teen beauty (Emmi Shockley); runs afoul of a couple of bullies (Joseph McCaughtry, Andy Riddle); and later receives instruction in bully abatement and pingpong mastery from an oddball recluse (Susan Sarandon).

The kid thinks he’s a pingpong whiz (he’s not), but under tutelage from the recluse (who is, or once was, such a whiz — in real life, Sarandon is in fact a pingpong devotee who owns a chain of pingpong clubs) learns life lessons about staying focused and gaining confidence. He’s taught, too, when it’s the right time to kiss the girl.

Thus instructed, he goes forth to face the chief bully (McCaughtry) at a pingpong match at the resort’s teen arcade.

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Or to put it another way: Underdog, rise up!

Writer-director Michael Tully, who grew up in Maryland and vacationed with his parents at the resort where he shot the movie, cast unknowns as the kids. He directed them poorly and their performances are painfully amateurish. Conte brings an appealing sense of innocence to the part but spends too much time hanging his head and wearing a hangdog expression on his face. The actors playing the bullies overact.

Only Sarandon’s performance rises above the level of mere sufficiency, but her character has no context. She’s odd for sheer oddness’ sake, a plot device in human form.

Soren Andersen:

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