Want an original storyline without any formulaic hyperbole that will jolt you out of your eye sockets and make you run down the multiplex aisle screaming eureka? Well, this movie is definitely not it. But in virtually every other sense, Gran Turismo checks the right boxes, taking you careening down a race track full of thrills, spills and a whole lot of (if wee bit cliched) big screen masala that is a bang for your Imax ticket’s buck.
Perhaps it was just a matter of time before Gran Turismo, the popular video game that has earned billions for Sony PlayStation since 1997 when the first version was released, got a cinematic jack-up. After all, Hollywood, and an increasing number of movie-going audiences, are getting hugely unexcited with the prospect of getting further swamped by comic book superhero franchises continuing to rule the roost offering Dolby-buffed crash-boom-bangs without a soul. So, then, why not turn towards that other post-millennial eyeball grabber — no, not social media, but video gaming, and offer a big screen crash-boom-bang version of its own?
To its credit, Gran Turismo does possess a storyline with a soul, however lightly it may be textured, and however much it veers away from the original true story it is based on. Small time boy Jann (pronounced ‘yaan’, he’s Welsh) whiles away time on his racing simulator playing GT and to his surprise finds he is selected to be part of Japanese auto giant Nissan’s audacious marketing ploy to attract a new demographic, “a generation of couch potatoes” to come out and buy cars (preferably those sporting that heraldic symbol of Japan in steel) by taking sim gamers and turning them into actual race track drivers.
Nissan’s team, including said audacious marketing ploy mastermind Danny (Orlando Bloom) and down-and-out trainer (he had to be, it’s a must ingredient in underdog formulas) Jack (David Harbour, you’ve seen him play Eleven’s dad in Stranger Things), try to finesse up the raw rookie recruit through near misses, fatal crashes, pitstop sledging and even lazy talk over what is a better motivational music before a race, Black Sabbath or Kenny G (Or Enya).
The rest is history, as in the history of a hundred million underdog-trying-to-make-it-in-the-big-bad-world films we’ve seen before. But what works for Gran Turismo is, surprisingly enough, the juxtaposing of this familiar formula at the unique crossroad of simulated racing games and actual real world blood-and-metal races. To make the point, director Neill Blomkamp alters Jann’s bedroom sim races by conjuring up physical vehicles of different makes around him. And when he’s out racing in the physical world, the visuals are inter-stitched with graphics and console-like effects.
Blomkamp, who shocked the world with his Oscar-nominated District 9 (a story of aliens who came to invade the earth being segregated as a parallel to racism and apartheid) back in 2009 shows he can infuse some element of gravitas to even a formulaic big budget plot. The script is fair enough while the slick editing papers over its cracks. The BGM soars high and never misses a high point, even while ensuring it doesn’t crank up mindlessly into a decibel assaulter.
Lead actor Archie Madekwe is fresh faced, earnest and easy on the eyes, and slips into his role with an ease which promises that his best is yet to come. And millennials may get a bit unnerved when they see who’s playing his parents — dad is Djimon Hounsou (you saw his sculpted Greek god bod in anything from Amistad to Gladiator) while the mom is, wait for this, Geri Halliwell ! You are reminded of your mortality when THE spice girl who shook her bum at the establishment in the late nineties with ‘Girl Power' sits demurely at the dinner table mouthing, “These lentils are quite nice”.
Through the many races including the final Le Mans one, the biggest success of this movie could well be that it manages to keep audiences engaged — we’re at our seat’s edge as Jann’s car makes its life or death careening down to the chequered flag, even if we know deep down in our hearts what the outcome could only be. That could well be this film’s eureka moment.
Movie: Gran Turismo
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Archie Madekwe, Orlando Bloom, David Harbour