Gran Turismo Review

Gran Turismo
The true story of gamer Jann Mardenborough (Madekwe), whose dreams of becoming a real race car driver slowly become reality.

by John Nugent |
Published on
Original Title:

Gran Turismo

“This entire thing is a marketing extravaganza!” hails Orlando Bloom, part way through Gran Turismo. It’s rare that a movie says the quiet part out loud. For while this makes admirable gestures towards the noble intentions of reach-for-your-dreams sports-movie feel-goodery, it’s very hard to shake the feeling that it is simply a highly elaborate corporate branding exercise, the smell of the ink from rubber-stamping approval never far away.

Gran Turismo

Gran Turismo was never one of those video games that lent itself to a big-screen adaptation. There is no story mode there. It is literally just cars going around a racetrack. Sensibly, a story mode is found in Jann Mardenborough (a likably boyish Archie Madekwe), a real-life player of the game who graduated from the GT Academy, which trained top-rated gamers to become professional race car drivers. This also means the game can feature in the film – a lot. The main character here is not Jann, but Gran Turismo itself.

For most of the film there’s a complete dearth of tension.

After a pre-titles sizzle reel summarising the brand (one that wouldn’t look out of place in a shareholder meeting), we meet Bloom’s slimy Nissan marketing exec Danny Moore. Danny is a simple man with a simple dream: to make use of a vast untapped car market in the gaming world, via the GT Academy. In a heartwarming tale of corporate synergy, Nissan promptly agrees to sponsor a racing team with Gran Turismo players. The grand inciting incident of this entire film is therefore essentially: how do we increase our annual profits?

Gran Turismo

Then we switch to Cardiff (or a version of Cardiff where Welsh accents are curiously absent). There, Jann spends all his spare time playing Gran Turismo, dreaming of something more. Director Neill Blomkamp – seemingly in journeyman mode here, the sharp satire of District 9 AWOL – makes some bells-and-whistles efforts to make the gaming and driving feel engaging, but outside of Top Gear, you need more than swooping drones and close-ups of pistons.

For most of the film there’s a complete dearth of tension. You know he’s going to win all the races, because why would they make a film about the guy who came last? The only actual drama comes with a couple of nasty crashes – including one genuine tragedy – which emphasises the real danger of the real-life sport. Performances from David Harbour (as Jann’s father figure) and a never-better Djimon Hounsou (as Jann’s actual father), meanwhile, lend some much-needed heart and gravity.

Otherwise, it’s just the usual Top Gun-Rocky-Mighty Ducks formula, plus as many licensed logos in the frame as can be fitted. Gran Turismo, the characters frequently like to remind us, is not a game — it’s a racing simulator. You could just as easily level that this isn’t really a film – it’s mostly just a film simulator.

Despite some warm performances, it’s very hard to ignore the feeling that this is largely just two hours of product placement.
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