Thursday, August 24, 2023

‘Gran Turismo’ races on a formulaic track


     If I weren't writing about films, I doubt whether I’d see Gran Turismo: Based on a True Story,  the real-life tale of a young man who made the shift from an expert player of a popular car racing game to the high-speed world of the track.
     Gran Turismo probably will have its greatest appeal among those who spend hours trying to excel at PlayStation's popular pastime, which was invented by Japanese designers who spent years giving the game an astonishing degree of versimilitude.
       So what about the rest of us, those who don't play video games and who aren't especially interested in sports car racing?
        I guess the surprise is that Gran Turismo is watchable while being predictable. The movie makes little attempt to dig beneath the surface or say anything we haven't heard before -- and still manages to cross the finish line without being disqualified.
    Put another way, the movie is OK.
       Director Neill Blomkamp (District 9, Elysium) tell the story of Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe), a kid who grew up in Cardiff playing Gran Turismo and dreaming of driving real races cars. 
     Working-man Dad (Djimon Hounsou) thinks Jann should continue his education. Mom (Geri Horner) seems more supportive. Jann's brother (Daniel Puig) ... well ... he's in the movie, too.
        Jann might have continued drifting and dreaming if it hadn't been for a slick promoter (Orlando Bloom) who sells Nissan on the idea of sponsoring GT Academy, a facility where talented gamers would be trained to drive real race cars. 
        Initially reluctant, a former driver turned chief engineer (David Harbour) agrees to train the young crew. No one else wants the job.
         The idea is that the game requires so much skill that the best sim drivers, as they're called, could make the transition from gaming cafes and isolated bedrooms to professional tracks.
         At two hours and 15 minutes, Gran Turismo doesn't skimp on training montages and racing footage as Jann progresses, eventually competing to earn his license as a professional driver while facing opposition from an arrogant driver (Josha Stradowski) who believes Jann's lack of experience will endanger other drivers.
         Obvious questions roar through the plot as loudly as the movie’s cars. Will Jann wash out or will he become a professional driver and, ultimately, a winner? Will Dad, a stern man who played soccer and who hasn't supported his son's ambition, eventually come around? Can the movie accommodate more product placements?
          As a failed driver who couldn't overcome a tragic incident in his past, Harbour gives his character old-pro flavor. The rest of the performances are up to snuff.
      It's unfair to criticize a movie such as Gran Turismo for being formulaic. There’s reassurance in familiarity. You can even anticipate some of the dialogue before the characters open their mouths.
         Of all the racing footage — much of it convincing — a crash in which Jann's car becomes almost vertical on the track  proves difficult to watch.  And Blomkamp ingeniously shows how Jann's mind works, turning real cars into blueprints of their game versions while driving on real tracks.
        Gran Turismo's B-movie plot doesn't mesh with what seem to be grander ambitions. The resultant movie suffers when it tries to inflate Jann's achievement into a broader endorsement of the kind of  bromides in which movies specialize. Dreams can become real. Stuff like that.
        Gran Turismo is best when it drives in its own narrow lane and doesn't try to turn Jann's story into a cheering session for every underdog.


Nick said...

Would you recommend seeing this? As an aside, I'm not a big racing fan. Thanks.

Robert Denerstein said...

If you're neither a racing fan nor a video game fan, I'd say find another movie to see.

Patrick Wahl said...

Interviews gone bad if you haven't seen it.