There seems to be a growing movement to produce films based on games, toys and other brand names. “The Super Mario Bros. Movie,” “Flamin’ Hot” and “Barbie” all came out earlier this year. The latest addition to this trend is “Gran Turismo.”
Gran Turismo is a racing video game. It’s promoted as an extremely realistic simulation and many players use advanced setups, including a steering wheel and pedals, to simulate the experience of racing as closely as they can.
However, the film is not a direct adaptation of the game. Instead, it’s based on a true story. It follows Jann Mardenborough, a teenager from Wales, who wins a contest to join the best Gran Turismo players in the world with a shot to become a real race car driver.
It seems like a simple enough plot, one that lends itself to all the sports movie tropes. But the film appears to have confused adding more plot with developing a better one. It is so scared of being boring — always jumping from one thing to another — that it never gives us room to breathe and feel.
The first part of the movie is overflowing with almost every conflict imaginable — the unforgiving coach, the father who doesn’t believe in him, the brother that likes feeling superior, the romantic interest, the rival racer. It’s like the film couldn’t decide which typical drama to go with, so it threw them all in to see what would stick.
Despite all that, the racing stirs emotion. There are plenty of flashy shots of cars for the gearheads — nothing new or very stylistic, but well done. Even if you’re not a racing fan, sports have a visceral effect that viewers can’t escape. The effect only lasts so long, though. Without properly developed drama and emotion, it falls flat.
The middle of the film is unrelenting. Montage after montage, pop song after pop song, must-win race after must-win race. It tries to force you to feel, but just leaves a taste of superficiality in your mouth. You stop focusing so much on what’s happening and start to notice the Nissan, PlayStation and Puma logos that seem to accompany every shot.
It’s not until the end that the film finally slows down a bit, and we’re able to realize some of the drama has merit. The acting is good, with a standout performance by David Harbour as the tough but kind-hearted coach. But it’s too little, too late. And by the time the final race comes along, the stakes and emotions have flat-lined.
We all know these brand-inspired movies are made to sell more toys and games, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be good. They can still tell a meaningful and entertaining story that audiences connect with. I’m thinking of “Barbie” and “Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves.”
There is a scene when Orlando Bloom, while playing a Nissan marketing executive, tries to justify poking cameras where he shouldn’t by exclaiming, “This whole thing is a marketing extravaganza!” In this case, I tend to agree.