Gran Turismo is a traditional underdog tale boosted by excellent racing

archie madekwe, david harbour, gran turismo
Gran Turismo reviewSony Pictures

Video game adaptations have had a banner year with The Last of Us ranking among the best-reviewed TV shows of the year and The Super Mario Bros Movie grossing $1.35 billion at the box office.

Hoping to continue the success is Gran Turismo, another PlayStation Productions outing like The Last of Us. Understandably though, it's not as faithful of an adaptation as the HBO show given that a racing simulation game doesn't lend itself to an obvious movie.

Instead, the new movie tells the true story of Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe) who, in 2011, went from being a Gran Turismo gamer to a professional race car driver after winning a competition organised by Nissan. It's a story tailor-made for Hollywood and it's only a surprise that it's taken this long.

It turns Gran Turismo into a rousing underdog sports movie more than a video-game adaptation, although there are plenty of nods to the game. You'll wish for more of the actual true story, but the movie is still an entertaining late-summer blockbuster that'll get the pulse racing.

archie madekwe, darren barnet, pepe barroso, gran turismo
Sony Pictures

Despite Jann Mardenborough's incredible achievement, writers Jason Hall and Zach Baylin have had to take some creative license in telling his story. Life just rarely plays out in a conventional three-act structure, so while the broad strokes did really happen, there are fictional elements, such as a rivalry with his trainer's former team.

It's here where Gran Turismo can feel a bit too manufactured to fit an underdog sports movie template. Mardenborough's real story is thrilling enough without having to manipulate elements, especially when they take away from learning more about him. Along with the rivalry, there's also a thin romantic subplot that's equally unnecessary.

One element that definitely works is Mardenborough's trainer Jack Salter, an amalgam of several real-life people. David Harbour is the perfect fit for the 'grouchy unwilling mentor turned genuine supportive friend' sports-movie arc, and the relationship between Mardenborough and Salter is the movie's most affecting.

archie madekwe, david harbour, gran turismo
Sony Pictures

It's a more effective parent-son combination than the one we get with Mardenborough's actual parents, played by Djimon Hounsou and Geri Halliwell-Horner. Hounsou has one emotional scene towards the end that he plays beautifully, but is otherwise underused, and the less said about Halliwell-Horner's wooden performance, the better.

Despite some of the dodgier elements of the manufactured plot, Gran Turismo succeeds at arguably the most important aspect: the driving sequences. Filmed largely practically, director Neill Blomkamp puts the audience in the driver's seat to experience Mardenborough's perspective as much as possible.

It's a visceral and absorbing experience every time we get a race sequence, from the innovative camerawork – including angles taken from the Gran Turismo games – to the punchy sound editing. Like with Top Gun: Maverick last year, you can feel the difference of the practical racing, making the races more impactful.

archie madekwe, gran turismo
Sony Pictures

The movie still can't resist some underdog story clichés, such as multiple photo finishes to the races, but at least it fits this element of the movie more. You almost expect the manipulative finishes in a movie like this, so you can go along with the cheesiness more than you can with the pointless rivalry subplot.

As good as the set pieces are, you're still left with the feeling that Gran Turismo races through Mardenborough's actual story at the expense of more depth. The main elements are there, including the most shocking and devastating incident in Mardenborough's career, but the movie rarely settles and is always quick to move on.

If you haven't heard of Jann Mardenborough before, Gran Turismo still gives you an insight into his unbelievable story, together with some excellent driving sequences. But if you want to know more about the person behind the driver, you'll need to do your own research.

3 stars
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Gran Turismo is released in UK cinemas on August 9 and in US cinemas on August 25.

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