Films about video games used to be box office poison, but times are changing. Super Mario Bros is the most successful film of 2023 so far, while Sonic The Hedgehog and Mortal Kombat have grown into formidable movie franchises. Hoping to succeed where Need For Speed failed is Gran Turismo, a movie based on the long-running racing game.
It’s based on real-life racer Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe), an avid Gran Turismo player who enters a Nissan-sponsored competition to find the players best suited to becoming real life racers. Fighting sceptical coaches and unexpected setbacks, Jann looks to prove that he is as good in the driver’s seat as he is with a controller.
Orlando Bloom’s entertainingly vapid executive spends much of the film gleefully talking about marketing prospects. It proves a rallying cry for the movie, as this underdog tale is as much about selling products as it is inspiring youngsters. If you’ve seen any sporting movie, you’ll recognise the training/setbacks/victory rhythm, which relies on the real life source material to lend it some legitimacy. This is upended slightly by a sequence involving a fatal crash while racing on the famous Nurburgring. This actually happened, but the film’s use of the event (the dates are shifted to suit the narrative) feels uncomfortable.
It will come as no surprise that Gran Turismo is a circus of corporate branding: car logos are everywhere, while the game is talked about like it’s some mystic work of art. What is a surprise is that Neill Blomkamp, the director of District 9, is behind it all. Although he lends some visual flair to the action, it’s hard to find much of the style that made him a sci-fi favourite.
He does at least bring out the best in his cast. Madekwe has all the charm and grit you need for this Rocky-on-wheels adventure, learning from his two mentors in Djimon Hounsou (playing Jann’s father) and David Harbour’s gruff racing coach. Both older stars have been better, but bring some humanity to all the engine revving.
Gran Turismo should be applauded for taking a game with no story and making a serviceable film (many others have failed in this endeavour). However, it’s difficult to recommend it to anyone other than those who spend hours on the digital track.