Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story review - Ideas above its PlayStation
Director Neill Blomkamp finds himself gridlocked between pedestrian biography, edge-of-the-seat action, and cynical product placement.
In terms of box-office gold spun from iconic games and pastimes, the world is still waiting for must-see movies based on Etch A Sketch, KerPlunk or the Rubik Cube. Multi-million sales don’t automatically guarantee a smooth transition to the big screen, and in this instance, Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story is guilty of ideas above its PlayStation.
Since the launch of its first version just in time for Christmas 1997, the racing simulation console game has sold an excess of 90 million units, with the most recent, Gran Turismo 7, welcomed by eager thumbs across the globe in March 2022.
That level of success was bound to tempt filmmakers sooner or later, especially with an unlikely-but-true story to put icing on the cinematic cake. However, director Neill Blomkamp finds himself gridlocked between pedestrian biography, edge-of-the-seat action, and cynical product placement.
In 2011, 19-year-old Jann Mardenborough was one of 100,000 gamers who took part in a tournament held by the GT Academy, winning the top prize to sit behind the wheel of a real car and compete for Nissan in the Dubai 24 Hour race. He finished third in his class, which was enough of a launching pad for a full-time profession as a motorsports driver. Mardenborough’s path to fame and riches is the stuff of dreams; wish-fulfilment of the highest order.
Archie Madekwe as the would-be boy racer with eyes on the prize is initially discouraged by his parents (Djimon Hounsou and a spectacularly wooden Geri Halliwell), and it’s up to Orlando Bloom’s flash-racing executive Danny Moore to keep Jann on the right track. His spiel about the wunderkind being offered a “great marketing opportunity” is essentially shorthand for the entire movie.
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Blomkamp rose to prominence with the technical wizardry of the 2009 alien fable District 9, and here he keeps a firm grip on the special effects that give the film’s racing sequences their requisite bite and buzz. Unfortunately, when his cameras are trained on those pesky humans, it’s invariably underwhelming, with David Harbour’s curmudgeonly games trainer Jack practically the only character with any depth or substance.
Whatever the effectiveness, or otherwise, of Gran Turismo’s flesh-and-blood participants, there’s an all-too-frequent niggling sense that distributors Sony see themselves as the stars of the show, such is the ubiquity with which PlayStations, phones and MP3 players emblazoned with the company’s logo flash across the screen.
Quick-cut montages of thrills and spills on the racing circuit play out like extended, typically expensive TV commercials, and even when the drivers’ derring-do results in tragedy, it’s addressed with a borderline vulgar haste before moving on to the next turbo-charged challenge. It’s as if the makers’ attitude to life-or-death scenarios is little more than the cold algorithms that spawned the game in the first place – crash, reset and start again.
It’s this dismissive portrait of what’s actually at stake when excitable young men rev up and jostle at 200 miles per hour for the glory of a podium finish that sticks in the craw. There’s no tangible examination of what makes the drivers embrace such a dangerous sport, no insight into the characters’ motivations or reservations (if any), to the point where they are, to all intents and purposes, software components of a gargantuan and incredibly lucrative toy.
Fans of even the most cookie-cutter, against-all-odds sports biopics may leave the cinema feeling short-changed, while gamers themselves may be frustrated at not being able to control what’s on screen with a skilled flick of the wrist on their own console to take the narrative down a more satisfying avenue. For all its bright lights, loud bangs and faux jeopardy, Gran Turismo struggles to get out of second gear, and there’s a palpable risk of viewer fatigue setting in long before the chequered flag is in sight.
Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story is now showing in UK cinemas. Check out more of our Film coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what's on tonight.
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