Sony takes another shot at adapting a popular PlayStation series for the big screen with Gran Turismo, a stock sports biopic to go along with their stock action-adventure Uncharted from last year. This year’s offering inherently has a bit more going for it, as the racing genre naturally translates to the cinematic and tying the video game to real-life events also hits Hollywood’s penchant for true stories. There are some reliably exciting race sequences in the film, and some augmented effects that help unpack the mechanics of the sport, but the narrative itself is frustratingly frictionless. Outside of the actual race scenes, director Neill Blomkamp isn’t able to develop or sustain authentic stakes for his characters, instead relying on ineffectual antagonists that get shuffled around chumps like at the bottom of a leaderboard.
The film begins with marketing executive Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) pitching an idea to Nissan International that involves getting the best Gran Turismo gamers in the world behind the wheel of actual race cars. Soon enough, GT Academy is born and Moore has to find someone who can turn these virtual motorists into qualified competitors on the racing circuit. Enter Jack Salter (David Harbour), a gruff, washed-up former driver who would rather take a chance on bedroom dwellers than suffer the arrogance of affluent posers who think they can buy their way into the sport. An online tournament is held and 9 sim racers are selected for the Academy; among them is Cardiff-based Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe), whose father Steve (Djimon Hounsou) was a notable pro footballer. Despite their differences in temperament and skill set, Jann and Jack weave through the obstacles of the international racing scene together.
The mentor-mentee relationship between Jack and Jann is just one of the many tropes Gran Turismo indulges in its narrative but Harbour and Madekwe give everything they can to characters that are routinely underwritten. The pair is also saddled with repetitive and derivative dialogue at every turn; if I had a dollar for every time Jack barked some variation of “this isn’t a video game; this is real life!”, I’d have enough to buy my own Nissan GT-R sports car. Despite this, their performances are about the only thing worthwhile off the track in the movie and the scenes where their characters find ways to relate their experiences to one another are the clear high points. Bloom, on the other hand, is playing to the rafters with every line and lends zero discernible personality traits to his already paper-thin character.
Where Gran Turismo fails as an underdog sports movie is giving the audience a sense of how the protagonist actually works his way up from the bottom to be a champion. This seems like a given but the actual “how” behind a video gamer turning into a pro racer leaves plenty to examine in ways that an okay boxer turning into a great boxer in another story would be self-evident via training montage. Sure, Gran Turismo has montages where Jann deftly avoids the chopping block at the Academy and seems to progress as an actual racer but the movie never really delves into what prepares him for expertise in this world outside of knowing the tracks from the game. Too often, Blomkamp sidesteps process in favor of platitudes and keeps us out of the driver’s seat when it comes to involving us in Jann’s evolution.
With its central theme of partnership in racing and a climax set during the 24 Hours Of Le Mans race, it seems inevitable to compare this movie to 2019’s Ford v Ferrari, which smokes Gran Turismo in every category. But the most important way that film succeeds in comparison is that it works hard to convey the sensation of how it feels to be behind the wheel of one of these powerful vehicles. For all of its footage of competition and cars zooming by, Gran Turismo feels comparatively artificial and less tangible, likely due to the sometimes jerky CG effects in the sequences where cars collide with one another. The film is based on a video game and, at times, simply feels like watching a video game play out. For fans of the Gran Turismo franchise, that may be enough to rev up their engines but most moviegoers will feel like they got stuck with a lemon.
Score – 2/5
More movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters is The Hill, a sports biopic starring Dennis Quaid and Colin Ford about the real-life journey of baseball player Rickey Hill and his struggle with a degenerative spinal disease as his fights to join Major League Baseball.
Premiering on Netflix is You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah, a family dramedy starring Sunny Sandler and Samantha Lorraine about a pair of best friends whose plans for their respective coming-of-age parties are threatened by middle school drama.
Streaming on Hulu is Vacation Friends 2, a buddy comedy sequel starring Lil Rel Howery and John Cena about a couple who meets up with another couple while on vacation in Mexico and sees their friendship take an awkward turn when they get back home.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup