Fast cars and true emotions get cut off by cliches.
“Gran Turismo” is the race car video game franchise that inspired Nissan to have the best players compete in actual races. And the movie “Gran Turismo” is based on the true story, and on the real life gamer-turned-racer Jann Mardenborough. So, it’s both a biography and a video game movie that speeds, runs out of gas, and then speeds and runs out of gas again.
Video games turning themselves into movies have a polarizing response with audiences. They can either be good with some fresh ideas or bad with the filmmakers acting like they’re hogging the controllers and us wanting to play. So far, I think 2023 has been a pretty good year for video games at the movies with “Tetris,” and “The Super Mario Bros. Movies.” “Gran Turismo” has the potential to join the club, if only it had the kind of story to really draw us in.
As the film begins, Nissan marketing executive Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) proposes the idea for a gamer to enter the real world. You know. Make the best Gran Turismo player drive an actual race car in an actual race. That’s when he turns to former racer-turned-mechanic Jack Salter (David Harbour) to train the winning racers for the big leagues.
We meet young Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe from “Midsommar”) in Wales, who is one of the best players, and dreams to be a genuine professional racer. He finally gets that opportunity at the GT Academy, where he trains with Jack and makes a rival in the form of Matty Davis (Darren Barnet).
He has his challenges on the tracks, his Kenny G and Enya music to keep him cool, and his ambition to reach to the top.
“Gran Turismo” was directed by Neill Blomkamp, who is best known for “District 9” and “Elysium.” It could have been a race car guilty pleasure like “Days of Thunder” or “Speed Racer,” because it does have its nice qualities. It has a good taste in music, the car races look entertaining, and the performances from Madekwe and Harbour are solid. The young man has ambition that almost reminds us of Cruise’s character in “Days of Thunder,” while Harbour has a sly attitude that makes him a likable comic relief character.
But as a game-to-film transition (“Uncharted,” “Mortal Kombat,” etc.), it has to have its flaws. They feature the typical father-son subplot, which is underdeveloped. Jann’s father Steve (Djimon Hounsou) thinks he’s wasting his potential on the video game, especially since the boy dropped out of university, and fears for his son’s safety at the race.
Certain CGI effects don’t leave up to the imagination, even though the races look real. And I’ve read that other critics have complained about the dramatization of Mardenborough’s car crash at the Nurhurgring, in which his car cartwheeled and hit into spectators, leaving one dead. It’s not ideal, but at least, the emotions afterwards are truthful. I was more interested in that than the actual crash.
“Gran Turismo” might win young gaming fans over, and it does have potential, but it feels more like a teaser for a franchise than an actual movie.
This article was written by me with full support of the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America strikes.
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