Gran Turismo Movie Review
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Let’s cut to the chase: Sony should leave the moviemaking to Nintendo. If you don’t believe me, spend 2+ hours in the theater watching Gran Turismo (2023) and I promise you’ll agree.
Video games adapted for the big screen have not performed well historically so attempting such a leap is never a guarantee. For every Sonic the Hedgehog, there’s a Double Dragon. Sure The Super Mario Bros. Movie made gobs of money ($1.357 billion at the time of writing), but then you’ve got others like DOA: Dead or Alive that were, well, dead on arrival. On paper these adaptations make sense – a brand name, a built in audience – but just because a game is popular on a game console, it doesn’t mean that it will equate to success in theaters. To do that, at a minimum, you need a strong script. And that’s just the start of where the legendary racing game turned film Gran Turismo comes up short.
Based on the true story of Jann Mardenborough (played in the film by British actor Archie Madekwe), Gran Turismo tells the fictional story of a teenage Gran Turismo player who finds himself literally in the drivers seat after winning a competition. Fictional being the key word because outside of Mardenborough’s ascent from player to driver, an unfortunate crash, and his eventual third place finish at Le Mans, the rest of the plot is essentially make-believe – including key supporting cast members, Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom), a Nissan marketing exec who came up with the concept of the GT Academy that takes players and turns them into racers, and Jack Salter (David Harbour), a former racer turned chief engineer who helps train the younglings. Listen, that’s not to say that Gran Turismo is the first “based on a true story” film that fails to contain many truths, but it may be the first to create fabricated core characters and nearly everything else save for a few key plot details. And, heck, when the climax of a racing film features the race team attempting to only make the podium not necessarily win, how does that rev people’s engines?! I’d explain the plot more, but that’s really it outside of the world’s least exciting romantic subplot. Boy plays video games. Boy wins competition. Boy drives for real. End.
If the plot wasn’t bad enough, the acting is just as cringe. Madekwe has absolutely zero presence on screen. Nothing. Nada. Unsure if Mardenborough is as dull in real life, but man, is he reflected poorly on screen. Former heartthrob Bloom offers little to the story. Still unclear on whether he is playing the role of the villain – or at least at times supposed to play that part – but with an embarrassing script, it’s difficult to tell for sure. Same for racing opponent, Nicholas (Josha Stradowski), the world’s least threatening adversary…ever. And then there’s Harbour’s phoned in performance. So dynamic as Hopper in and Santa Claus in the underrated Violent Night, here it feels like he is just cashing a paycheck.
But this is racing film with a reported $60 million budget so the racing scenes have to be killer, right? Not a chance. Gran Turismo takes home a Razzy for some of the most boring racing ever captured on screen. The scenes of Mario racing in The Super Mario Bros. Movie put Gran Turismo to shame. Perhaps if director Neill Blomkamp spent more time focusing on the racing scenes than the dull story and the accouterments to each race, viewers would walk away feeling energized. Whereas after watching a film like The Fast and the Furious, viewers channel their innermost Dominic and drive home as if they’re too an outlaw, here, viewers will be more likely to want to curl up in the backseat of their car and take a nap. That is if they didn’t fall asleep already during the far-too-long film.
Gran Turismo (2023) had an opportunity to shine, but with weak acting, a weaker script, and nothing to grab onto, this Days of Thunder rip-off never gets to full throttle and instead finds itself forever stuck in 1st gear.