Movie review: 'Gran Turismo' an inspiring story poorly told

Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe) becomes a real race car driver in "Gran Turismo." Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures
1 of 5 | Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe) becomes a real race car driver in "Gran Turismo." Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures

LOS ANGELES, Aug. 8 (UPI) -- The true story behind Gran Turismo, in theaters Aug. 25, is the sort of Cinderella story Hollywood sports movies usually invent. But this one is a poorly assembled rendition that does not do the story justice.

Nissan marketing executive Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) has a plan to train the best player of the Playstation racing simulation Gran Turismo to be a real race car driver. Moore enlists former Le Mans washout Jack Salter (David Harbour) to train the candidates.


Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe) has always dreamed of racing but doesn't have the financial resources to train to compete. But, he's scored the best lap times on Playstation's network, so Jann wins a spot at Salter's GT Academy.

Even if the viewer doesn't know this really happened, it's easy to figure out that Jann is the one they made the movie about. So it's very likely Jann will be the one who gets to live out his dream in a real race sponsored by Nissan.


Still, the script builds up the underdog tale of it all well. Jack conveys just how different physical racing is from playing a video game, and the first few eliminations of other candidates bear him out. Plus, Moore also accepts that Nissan is liable for any injury any amateur driver may incur.

It's not as simple as training and winning the race. After being chosen as Nissan's racer, Jann has to qualify for a racing license by coming in fourth place or better in a professional race.

That doesn't happen the first time out either. Further still, there are more achievements Jann must complete before he can become a champion.

That story is fine, if formulaic, but the most important component does not work. The biggest problem with Gran Turismo is the incomprehensible racing sequences.

Director Neil Blomkamp and editors Austyn Daines and Colby Parker Jr. cut too quickly from the track to inside the car to a helicopter shot overhead to a video monitor of the race.

Intercutting shots of gears and engines just apes the original Fast and the Furious without that film's visceral sense of speed.

Sweeping shots of the cars zooming past the stands actually cause the viewer to lose their place in the race because they're disjointed from what comes before and after.


There are a few nice, sweeping shots of individual maneuvers, but they don't flow from shot to shot. A circular track shouldn't be that hard to follow.

Early in the film, Jann explains one of his Playstation strategies that he does eventually use on the track. In the rest of the races, the film creates no sense of how Jann moves ahead of other cars in a race.

That editing is especially hard to take in IMAX, the format in which Gran Turismo screened and will be available to the public.

As further proof that the editing is sloppy, a montage of the candidates at GT Academy is cut so quickly that one character's name isn't even on screen long enough to read. It ultimately doesn't matter since Jann is the only character who gets to race, but at least the other contenders had their names on screen for an entire second, two seconds even!

Attempts to make the Playstation scenes more cinematic are misguided, too. When Jann plays the game, the shape of a vehicle materializes around him but the audience is still watching him play a video game. Sitting in a translucent car doesn't change that.

Harbour makes Jack a good mentor character. Like Mickey in Rocky or Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, Jack is skeptical of his aspiring protege at first, but Jann proves himself with his legitimate knowledge of race cars and malleability to Jack's lessons.


The real Jann Mardenborough is living his best life now. The failure of the Gran Turismo movie won't phase him, although he may have a stake in some residuals since he was Madekwe's stunt double in the film.

A documentary about Mardenboroguh would have captured the thrill of his true story better with actual racing footage. The Hollywood version is saddled with fakery that distracts from the real sensation.

Gran Turismo will hold sneak preview screenings prior to its wide release.

Fred Topel, who attended film school at Ithaca College, is a UPI entertainment writer based in Los Angeles. He has been a professional film critic since 1999, a Rotten Tomatoes critic since 2001, and a member of the Television Critics Association since 2012 and the Critics Choice Association since 2023. Read more of his work in Entertainment.

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