“Gran Turismo is part advertisement, part racing biopic. Mostly, though, it’s duller than it has any right to be.”
One memorable, midpoint racing sequence
Charismatic, if one-note, supporting performances
A formulaic, by-the-numbers script
Neill Blomkamp’s artless direction
A cast of one-note, uninteresting characters
When watching Grand TouringSony and Neill Blomkamp’s new, true-story take on the popular PlayStation franchise, it’s hard not to think of the excellent 2019 Christian Bale movie Ford v Ferrari. Both films not only center on real-life racers, but also feature extended climaxes set at a 24-hour race at Le Mans and revolve largely around the friendship between a professional driver and his chief engineer. There are even images throughout Grand Touring that look strikingly similar to scenes from the earlier James Mangold-directed, Oscar-nominated film and that are structured similarly.
Despite everything that the two films have in common, though, Grand Touring lacks the heart that made it easy for viewers to invest in Ford v Ferrari’s story. As a matter of fact, it lacks any real artistic identity. That will likely come as a surprise to those familiar with Blomkamp’s past films, which have occasionally suffered from the bluntness of his voice and his overbearing visual style. Both of those traits are absent from Grand Touringa film about competitive racing that spins its wheels — going nowhere emotionally or thematically for the majority of its runtime.
It should go without saying at this point that Grand Touring is based on a true story. The film’s marketing materials have repeatedly reinforced that fact in an attempt to sell Grand Touring not as just another video game adaptation, but as a dramatization of a unique, real-life rise to glory. In this case, said rise belongs to Jann Mardenborough (played in the film by Archie Madekwe), a British-born gamer who received the chance of a lifetime in 2011 when his skills as a Grand Touring player resulted in Nissan and Sony giving him the opportunity to become a professional racing driver.
Jason Hall and Zach Baylin’s script frames Mardenborough’s journey as a dream-come-true story that confirms the value of believing in one’s self, no matter what anyone else might say. Over the course of the film, Madekwe’s Mardenborough is forced to tune out the criticisms and warnings of not only his skeptical father, Steve (an underserved Djimon Hounsou), but also Jack Salter (David Harbour), the racer-turned-chief engineer hired by Nissan marketing executive Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) to try and turn Jann and several of his fellow, talented gamers into race car drivers.
The problem is that Jann never meets all that much resistance to his dreams throughout Grand Touring. Despite how repetitive it makes the early arguments between him and his father, the film remains content to simply follow its hero as he surely and quickly rises through the world of professional racing. The one true hurdle it throws at Jann involves the dramatization of a real-life automobile crash that reworks the timeline and details of the event in ways that will likely inspire some intense scrutiny from anyone who looks into it.
Ultimately, for a film that repeatedly stresses how challenging and demanding driving an actual race car can be, Grand Touring fails to make the effort involved in its central sport truly felt. The film, consequently, doesn’t tell a dramatically engaging story so much as it recaptures the sense of linear progression offered by video games. The longer it remains content with simply following the basic motions of its plot, the more one gets the sense of just how lifeless Grand Touring really is.
As seat-shakingly loud as it can get, Blomkamp’s film never invests enough time in the emotion and drama of its hero’s story to make any of his successes or rare setbacks feel earned or impactful. The by-the-numbers nature of Grand Touring’s plotting leaves many of its characters and performances feeling disappointingly one-note. Try as he might, Madekwe struggles to bring real, emotional depth to his fictionalized version of Mardenborough, who frequently feels more like a blank video game protagonist than he does an earnest, multidimensional dreamer.
Madekwe only truly shines during one third-act scene between him and Hounsou that’s undeniably well-performed, but also undercut by how underdeveloped their characters are throughout Grand Touring. Opposite Madekwe, both Harbour and Bloom give charismatic performances as characters who similarly feel more like bland archetypes than they do flesh-and-blood human beings. By focusing so intently on getting through as many of its plot points as it can, Grand Touring sands off the edges of its characters and their stories — rendering them as the dullest possible versions of themselves.
Behind the camera, Blomkamp never brings a distinct artistic perspective to Grand Touring. Even worse, the film is so in love with its rich corporations and products that it’s hard to believe Blomkamp, whose previous movies include numerous scathing critiques of corporate culture and greed, actually chose to direct it. In today’s media landscape, it’s hard to accuse any one filmmaker of selling out, so it doesn’t seem fair to pin that particular criticism on Blomkamp of all directors. However, acknowledging the reality of the current Hollywood system doesn’t take away from the fact that, like Barbie, Airand Flamin’ Hot before it, Grand Touring feels more like an advertisement than it does a piece of blockbuster entertainment.
The film is a weightless racing biopic that desperately wants you to buy into not only the journey of its hero, but also the roles that companies like Nissan and Sony played in making his dreams come true. Grand Touring never accomplishes either of those things. On the surface, it may try to pass itself off as an inspiring sports drama, but when you look under its hood, there’s nothing there but faulty wiring and a blown-out engine. Ford v Ferrari it is most definitely not.
Grand Touring is playing in select theaters now. It opens nationwide on Friday, August 25.