All revved up: Orlando Bloom in ‘Gran Turismo’.
GRAN TURISMO ** (134 minutes) M
Based on the hugely popular PlayStation game and designed primarily to sell it, Gran Turismo plays out as a tiresome, predictable, sub-standard racing car movie replete with hammy performances and more product placement than a James Bond film.
We’re now conditioned to accept movies built around well-established brands – this year we’ve had Mario Bros, Barbie, Air and another Transformers movie – the proviso being that there’s at least some attempt to spot weld a story to all the corporate signage and at least create the illusion of a movie.
With Gran Turismo we don’t get that. What we get is a two hour-plus sales pitch lauding the game’s design, success and ability turn virtual players into real-world champion race car drivers.
All this is done through the heavily fictionalized version of the true story behind Jann Mardenborough, a kid whose skill on the game earned him a spot at the “GT Academy” (thank you Sony and Nissan) where he and other top players were trained to become real race car drivers.
He went on to enjoy great success on the track and served as a producer, stunt driver and consultant on the film.
He’s played by Archie Madekwe (Midsommar), a fine young actor who does a notable enough job portraying a standard against-the-odds working class hero who gallantly defies the insistence of his father (Djimon Hounsou, totally wasted here) to get off the game and bget outside.
His rise to glory on the circuit is accompanied by driving instructor Jack Salter (David Harbour, so good as Santa in Violent Night) and Nissan spruiker Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom putting in a very hammy performance).
The film follows Mardenborough’s progress through various races until he gets to the legendary track at Le Mans, where he is part of a team that has to complete the gruelling 24-hour ordeal.
As incredibly rote as the story is, the film continually pushes its video game origins by covering the racing sequences with camera work designed to replicate the look of a video game, including large on-screen pointers showing where our hero is and what position he’s in.
What, pray, is the point of that? Why not do something, well, different and exciting? Why not? Got to sell the game.
As if that’s not sorry enough, it’s got to be said the CGI work in Gran Turismo isn’t all that flash. You can tell all the digital work, especially in the crash sequences where it looks like a toy car being tossed across the screen. We are even shown how many of the cars speeding along the track are digital creations.
Yet the most baffling aspect of Gran Turismo is that the director of this twaddle is Neill Blomkamp, who gave us District 9 and Elysium.
How could a director with such a distinctive style and a taste for realism churn out something so pedestrian and plastic?
As for the film’s two credited screenwriters, Jason Hall did American Sniper and Zach Baylin penned King Richard and co-wrote Creed III. That’s a hefty pedigree for a mediocre, formulaic film that unspools like something an off-the-shelf AI program could have effortlessly spat out.
Still, the film isn’t designed for cynics or cineastes or even people who go to the cinema expecting to see a film rather than a two hour house ad from Sony.
It’s for the legion of lovers of the game who will tap into its story of triumph and its celebration of the game they’ve devoted a good chunk of their lives to.
And there’s no crime in a film playing to its base, even if it turns out to be such an interminable endurance test for non-gamers.
DRACULA: VOYAGE OF THE DEMETER *1/2 (118 minutes) MA
Based on a chapter from Bram Stoker’s Dracula – the 1897 novel that spawned an entire movie genre – this drab, blue-tinted, fog-shrouded Gothic horror tripe tells of the voyage of a sailing ship cursed by the Count’s cargo as it tries making it from Transylvania to London.
On board are a bunch of caskets bearing Drac’s stamp, and when one of them cracks open and spills soil onto the deck an evil spirit is released to sporadically wreak havoc among the livestock and the ever-diminishing crew, who tend to speak chiefly in shouts.
The film clearly enjoyed a big budget, only director André Øvredal (Trollhunter) can’t corral the visual effects and the blood-letting gore into anything remotely interesting.
With performances as wooden as the ship’s hull, it’s basically a waiting game for when the impressively winged vampire demon will strike next. It’s a lovely creature, but the film is scare-free.
Wisely, the ship’s rats leave the ship early in the piece, presumably to swim off to a better film.