Gran Turismo isn't really a video game adaptation, it sits somewhere just next to that. It also comes just short of being a good movie but manages to be an entertaining one, if a little long. Director Neill Blomkamp has created a crowd-pleasing sports drama that falls back too often on tropes and thinly drawn characters. Yet, when the races kick-off, the film is hard to resist.
For how familiar the film's plot beats are, I remained invested in the outcome of every race and the overall story here. Archie Madekwe plays real-life gamer turned pro-driver Jann Mardenborough. It's a wild story that proved that a racing simulation was actually accurate and great at training potential drivers. While this premise is unique, the film's narrative follows every turn of any other sports drama. We get the dad who doesn't believe in his son trope, the grizzled vet who comes back to redeem himself trope and so many others. The film's main villain is so thinly drawn his only real quality seems to be he is super rich and therefore didn't earn his place. And yet, thanks to some skillful filmmaking and two central performances, Gran Turismo mostly works. Mardenborough's rise from young gamer to placing at Les Manns is an impressive and engaging story.
Marketing genius Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) saw the untapped market of gamers who obsess over customizing vehicles in the game. His idea is if Nissan can take one gamer to pro driver, then it will inspire 80 million players to believe in the dream. Much to his surprise, Nissan goes for this wild idea. To help train these young recruits is veteran driver and crew chief Jack Salter (David Harbour). Salter is skeptical of these young kids who have never driven a race car.
Mardenborough wants to prove to his father (Djimon Hounsou) that he isn't just wasting his time on a video game. His mother is more understanding but it is clear Mardenborough will have to follow his dreams on his own. It is easy to root for him too. Madekwe plays him as a humble yet determined young man. It is a solid performance that grounds the film even when beat after beat can feel lifted from other films.
The film's first act is bogged down by literal ads for PlayStation and the game. It isn't until we arrive at the Academy and the training begins that the film takes off. From there, the film is essentially a series of races. Each one is shot and edited to maximize the tension and excitement. Shout out to editors Colby Parker Jr and Austyn Daines for keeping the pacing up. The film zooms along even if you do start to feel the over two-hour runtime.
Tropes are reused because they work and Gran Turismo is evidence of this. The film packs enough thrills and emotional connection to carry it through. It is one of the better video game adjacent films to come around in some time.