Starring: Archie Madekwe, David Harbour, Orlando Bloom, Djimon Hounsou, Geri Halliwell Horner, and Daniel Puig
Director: Neill Blomkamp
As video game movies go, Gran Turismo isn’t terrible, but as a racing movie, it lacks the ferocity that it needs to stand out. The first act might actually move too fast for the film’s own good. Although we follow Jann Mardenborough’s (Archie Madekwe) journey into professional racing, we don’t really get to know him as a person, apart from vocationally, and we have almost no tangible relationship to any other characters besides Jack Salter (David Harbour). The climactic race of the film works well, and there are some emotional moments, but overall, this one could have used a tune-up.
I must qualify my remarks so you know that I am a sucker for underdog stories, especially if they are based on true events. That said, sure, Gran Turismo may be formulaic and take generous liberties in its storytelling, but my heart was still racing from start to finish. David Harbour’s performance is singular, while Archie Madekwe and Djimon Hounsou assist beautifully. I think Gran Turismo will be the underdog film that will most defy expectations this year with surprising universal appeal. I was even pumped for a soundtrack that included the likes of Kenny G! I highly recommend racing to see Gran Turismo today!
With its so-unique-it-could-only-be-true premise and Neill Blomkamp’s frenetic direction, Gran Turismo has a surprising amount of heart to make up for the otherwise standard underdog fare. For a racing film, it suffers from having some unceremonious finishes to very intense driving sequences. But with David Harbour charmingly carrying the rest of the cast through cliché dialogue, and one breathtakingly shocking scene that cuts through the mostly by-the-numbers sports movie plot points, there is just enough here to stick with this film to its somewhat satisfying ending.
I enjoyed Gran Turismo far more than I expected to. I have no interest in the video game, yet I was charmed by the feel-good underdog story and captivated by the thrilling racing sequences. Despite the against-the-odds victories being completely predictable, I found myself invested in the drama, sitting on the edge of my seat as Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe) fought to prove himself on the race track. The reconciliation of Jann’s relationship with his father even brought a tear to my eye. Amplified by a pounding soundtrack, this cut-and-dry sports drama hits all the right beats.
As a person who digs racing movies, I can overlook most flaws if the racing sequences are exciting enough. Sadly, Gran Turismo is so rough across the board that it’s hard to be forgiving. Aside from the dull race sequences and cliché story, the acting is wooden (David Harbour, notwithstanding), the rival racer angle is half-baked, the love interest subplot is forced, the dronework is somewhat nauseating, and, frankly, nothing about underdog Jann (Archie Madekwe) makes me want to root for him. That doesn’t even get into the PlayStation and Nissan commercial of it all. Again, I'm left wondering: what happened to director Neill Blomkamp?
I’m genuinely confused by Gran Turismo. On one hand, the story is Walk Hard-levels of obvious. Every biopic beat in the book, you name it, it’s in Gran Turismo, and with the exception of David Harbour, the performances are pretty stale, which unfortunately extends to the film's lead, Archie Madekwe. On the other hand, the racing sequences are so exhilarating that I found myself excited when the lead succeeded and at the edge of my seat when he failed, even though I correctly guessed the outcome of each race. It’s by no means a great movie, but it’s a worthwhile ride.
Gran Turismo as a movie is better than it has any right to be. Yes, it’s the classic underdog story seen hundreds of times, about a man who finds himself thrust into an environment his peers don’t think he belongs in. However, the performances and characters are entertaining enough to drive this film forward despite suffering a very one-dimensional villain and an overt amount of cliché, corny dialogue that pump the brakes on this being any kind of masterpiece. The race scenes are ramped up with terrific sound design and genuine suspense, though, and while Gran Turismo doesn’t break the mould, it’s certainly enjoyable.
Director Neill Blomkamp seems to be coming back into form with his craftsmanship, as he manages to do something truly exhilarating with this adaptation. From a technical aspect, this film will get your blood pumping. On the other hand, the script is very subpar. The story off the track feels like the most generic underdog story of all time, but once it gets in the racecar, the film manages to pick up speed. By no means is Gran Turismo the best racing movie out there, but it’s still a fun ride for all to enjoy, especially those that played the game growing up.