Gran Turismo overcomes video game trappings with fun and thrills
Over the last 30 years or so, there have been many attempts to adapt video games into movies, with the vast majority of them failing. The success of The Super Mario Bros. Movie bucked that trend, and now comes Gran Turismo, based on the popular race car simulator and inspired by a competition in which gamers were given an opportunity to become real-life racers.
Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe) is a young man living at home who spends most of his free time playing Gran Turismo, much to the chagrin of dad, Steve (Djimon Hounsou), and mom, Lesley (Geri Horner). At the same time, Nissan executive Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) convinces the top brass at the car company that offering top Gran Turismo players a chance to drive real race cars would be good for the brand.
Moore recruits Jack Salter (David Harbour), a longtime racing mechanic, to serve as a mentor for the gamers. Salter puts Jann and a group of international recruits through the paces, gradually winnowing them down to the one who’ll actually get to compete in a live race (one guess as to who that is). The transition from playing at home and driving on a track is a steep one, with more than a few surprises along the way.
Directed with aplomb by Neill Blomkamp and written by Jason Hall and Zach Baylin, the film is a combination of every sports movie cliché known to man and Top Gun, including elements like a father who doesn’t believe in his son's dreams, a washed-up mentor, a rival-turned-friend, a traumatic event, and more. After a bumpy start, the story evens out, making those tropes more acceptable the more you get to know the characters.
More than any recent movie about a product/business (yes, even Barbie), the movie really seems to be trying to sell viewers on how great the game is. The number of times one character or another touts Gran Turismo as the pinnacle of racing simulators in just the first half hour borders on ridiculous. The high level of commercialization is part and parcel with the story, so viewers will have to accept it at face value if they want to enjoy the movie at all.
A big plus for the film turns out to be the dedication to filming actual racing in real locations. Although there had to have been a good amount of CGI in the film, it is blended seamlessly with the authentic footage. With cameras mounted right on the cars, it makes for a you-are-there experience with some truly thrilling scenes, most notably a spectacular crash.
Madekwe has a decent number of credits to his name, but this appears to be his first starring role, and he puts in a solid performance. Both Hounsou and Harbour make for good father figures, giving the film an emotional heft, along with Horner, whose acting completely obscures the fact that in a previous life she was Ginger Spice. Bloom dials it up a bit too much in certain scenes, but he doesn’t ruin the movie.
There’s no getting around the fact that the sole reason Gran Turismo exists is to try to convince viewers how cool the game is, but as a sports movie, it follows the formula to a tee for maximum satisfaction. With the added excitement of being in/on cars while they’re speeding down the track, it overcomes its video game trappings for a legitimately fun time.
Gran Turismo opens in theaters on August 25.