Gran Turismo review – gamer turns racer in super-bland ode to product placement

Product placement has rarely been as chronic or concussive as it is in Gran Turismo, inspired by the real-life experiences of British teenager Jann Mardenborough (played here by the sweetly gauche Archie Madekwe), whose PlayStation proficiency won him the chance to compete as a real-life racing driver in GT Academy, a Nissan-sponsored promotion intended to get the public loving cars again. Before you can say “Ulez”, he is taking private jets and eating sushi (“This is amazing!”) while glamorous destinations flash by on screen: Tokyo! Dubai! Cardiff!

The contest is the brainchild of Nissan executive Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom), who dreams of turning gamers into racers; Moore, though, comes on like a dullard Willy Wonka as he whittles down the candidates. Thank goodness for David Harbour as Jack Salter, a grizzled trainer who delivers an anti-pep talk telling the bushy tailed gamers that they’re doomed to failure. He could almost be addressing Jason Hall (American Sniper) and Zach Baylin (King Richard), the co-writers of the chicane-free script, or director Neill Blomkamp, who made the complex alien allegory District 9 but has trouble animating the simplest exchanges here. Then again, perhaps no one could have brought naturalism to Jann’s home life, where his parents are played by a baffled-looking Djimon Hounsou (“There’s no future in racing!”) and Ginger Spice, AKA Geri Halliwell Horner, who remains as compellingly unable to deliver a line as she was in her Sex and the City cameo 20 years ago.

Special effects shots that show bodywork materialising magically around Jann as he sits at his console hint at what the film might have been had it embraced videogame graphics more decisively, à la Tron or Scott Pilgrim Vs the World. But blandness wins out: once you have seen one shot swooping and diving on to the cars as they zoom around Le Mans, you have seen them all. Ghoulishly, the film only comes alive during a crash, or some whiff of fallibility such as when Danny, based on GT Academy founder Darren Cox, tries to interfere in the selection process to favour a more media-savvy contestant.

Commerce contaminates the whole endeavour. When Jann gives Jack a heartfelt gift, which company logo is clearly visible on it? (Clue: it isn’t Apple.) And as the teenager progresses through the ranks and the race-tracks, we keep hearing how the original PlayStation product is a driving simulator rather than a mere game. It is a distinction that applies to the movie: this is a simulation of cinema, with scarcely a human fingerprint anywhere on its chassis.

  • Gran Turismo is released on 10 August in Australia, 11 August in the UK, and 25 August in the US.