“Gran Turismo” is the latest “sports” movie based on a true story. How much you want to put it in that genre depends on whether you consider playing video games to be an athletic competition.
The 14th film from Sony Pictures spawned by one of the company’s games is based on the true story of Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe), a young man from Wales who is considered a failure by his family because he spends his days playing the many versions of the Playstation game – or driving simulator – of Gran Turismo. It all masks his deep passion to drive real cars that seems like a dream.
That dream becomes a potential reality in 2011 when Nisson marketing mastermind Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) comes up with the idea of starting the GT Academy. Those with top scores playing the game will be invited to win their way to a spot in the facility where one simulator driver will become part of the real Nisson racing team.
The first half of the film is filled with impressive images of the hopefuls behind the wheels of video game screens and in actual cars. There is a repetitiveness to all these training scenes that would have become boring if not for the work by David Harbour as Jack Salter.
He’s a former racer who has hit hard times and agrees to run the academy until a winner is picked. Harbour knows just how to play a character who is cranky and bitter but never to the point of wanting him to leave the room.
The second half of the film is a series of races with Mardenborough winning the academy competition and then driving in multiple real competitions. It all culminates in his being part of a team made up completely of simulator drivers participating in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
As with the first half, no matter how quickly director Neill Blomkamp edits the scenes, there is a redundancy from shots of the feet, faces and hands of the drivers. It should be noted that the real Mardenborough did all of the stunt driving for Madekwe.
Once again, Harbour comes through. His gruffness slowly gives way to the kind of father figure that writers Jason Hall and Jack Baylin suggest Mardenborough was missing. The artificially manufactured parental conflict could have been avoided by giving Djimon Hounson – who plays the young driver’s father – more scenes. Plenty of those repeated race sequences could have been cut.
The writers also struggle to wedge in a love story for Mardenborough. By the time the film gets around to romance, the movie is in its final laps.
Madekwe handles all of the racing and training sequences with ease. Blomkamp and the writers should have had more faith in him and let him work outside the confines of a race car. As it is, the emotional level of the production is stuck in neutral.
There is a slight problem with all of the talk about this being based on a true story. Liberties are taken from having it appear that Mardenborough won the first GT Academy trials when it wasn’t until the third year that he earned a spot. There is also a condensing of his first year of racing that has him going from high performance race cars to a formula one car in the same year. The heart of the film maintains enough of the real story but in this case the term “based on” has a broad connotation.
The argument to start the GT Academy is a way for Nisson to sell cars. If the 80 million Gran Turismo players at that time saw how cool it was for one of their own to be taking laps in the real world, they would want to be part of that experience.
If the argument to make the videogame into a movie was the hope millions of Gran Turismo fans will think about going to the movies to see the film, that is a much harder point to make. The odds are higher they will just roll up more hours on their Playstation consoles and wait for the movie to be available through their phone or other home electronic device.
Cast: David Harbour, Orlando Bloom, Archie Madewke, Geri Halliwell, Djimon Hounsou
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Rated: PG-13 for language, intense action scenes
Running time: 135 minutes.