Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madewke) is an avid player of the racing simulator, 'Gran Turismo'. When he places into a racing academy created by a marketing director (Orlando Bloom) for Nissan, Jann realises that driving on a computer game and driving in real-life is vastly different. Yet, his skill behind the wheel impresses his instructor (David Harbour), and soon, he finds himself competing in death-defying races across the globe as a professional driver...
For those who have gotten behind the wheel of a supercar in the video game series 'Gran Turismo', there's a level of precision to the experience. It's not like an arcade game or something over-the-top like 'Need For Speed' or 'Burnout', where you can happily fling cars around a racetrack with little care for physics or reality. Instead, the game requires a level of control and skill that is borne out of fierce concentration and endless, endless laps of Nurburgring and Laguna Seca. Therefore, the idea of a movie based on the experiences of Jann Mardenborough - who was one of the world's top players, and eventually became a professional race-car driver - seems like a logical point to adapt from.
The frustrating part of the movie is that the game itself has little to nothing to do with it, and instead 'Gran Turismo' becomes a thinly-veiled product placement campaign for Nissan and Sony. Of course, you can see how and why 'Gran Turismo' is here. It's a successful marketing campaign, and given how the movie was financed by Sony as part of their PlayStation Productions shingle, it's all so coldly logical. Yet, while previous movies based on successful marketing campaigns and tales of capitalism run amok like 'Air', 'Tetris' or 'The Beanie Bubble' have had at least some kind of edge to it, 'Gran Turismo' is far too pedestrian in its execution, and the cast can't seem to get a handle on any of it.
Orlando Bloom and his smell-the-fart acting fill up the screen as the marketing guru for Nissan. David Harbour, meanwhile, has two settings for the movie and for most of his work - roaring at the top of his lungs and throwing stuff around, or doing a poor Harrison Ford impression. Archie Madewke, on the other hand, looks like a deer in headlights for much of the movie and while we're supposed to be enthralled by his experiences as he is, there's a listlessness in his performance that makes it impossible to connect with. Not even Geri Haliwell - whose husband is the Team Principal for Red Bull Racing in Formula 1 - can manage to liven things up.
Neill Blomkamp's career to date has been made up of rough-and-ready sci-fi movies like the excellent 'District 9', the so-so 'Elysium', and in watching 'Gran Turismo', you get the sense that this is much less of a passion project and more of a potboiler. There are some visually impressive moments, particularly when there's a direct reference to the game's driving viewpoint or Ken Block's promo videos, but it's not enough to sustain interest over a tiresome two-hour-plus runtime. More than that, you can even feel Blomkamp's interest in the whole enterprise begin to wane throughout. The script from Zach Baylin and Jason Hall is riddled with cliches throughout, which isn't all that surprising when you discover that one of them wrote 'King Richard' and the other wrote 'American Sniper'.
'Gran Turismo' isn't so bad that it's a car crash. Instead, it is a tiresome clog of traffic, plodding along with dull characters and bland scripting. Take a detour and avoid it.