Gran Turismo movie review: we watched it so you really don't have to | Top Gear
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Tuesday 5th December

Gran Turismo movie review: we watched it so you really don't have to

Who better to send to see the new GT film than someone who hasn’t played it since the dawn of the millennium? Erm...

Published: 08 Aug 2023

Now I must admit straight away that I haven’t actually played Gran Turismo in at least two decades. I got bored trying to score my International B licence and doing enough races round the Autumn Ring to try and save up for a brakes upgrade to my wheezing Mazda Demio. The anarchic Grand Theft Auto was much more fun when that came along, then Rollercoaster Tycoon stole my heart. Smash cut to the present (cinema term) and I’ve missed something important – Gran Turismo is emphatically a driving simulator now (and I know because a character clarifies every few minutes), and despite being 25 years old, car company executives have never heard of it. 

I went in cold, expecting Jumanji-style nonsense (a group of kids get sucked into the game and can’t leave until they’ve completed their International B licence) or a Billy Elliott story of redemption against the odds. A youngster from the mean streets of Tokyo elbows his way through the street scene until he earns enough money to buy a Ford GT. Once he’s completed his International B licence, of course, in the second act’s perilous denouement.

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Tonally Gran Turismo struggles to decide whether it’s going to be a drama, comedy (though I think I laughed in all the wrong places), action special or a touching tribute to geeks worldwide. It opens with a loving homage to game creator Kazunori Yamauchi, then we’re whisked over to Cardiff, where Djimon Hounsou (really too good for this, but those bills have to be paid) is shouting at his son Jann Mardenborough for playing too much on his computer instead of trying to be a footballer. Jann is played by an endearing Archie Madekwe – looking forward to seeing him in a good film – who at 6ft5in is approximately three times the size of actual Jann Mardenborough. 

But in your face, Dad, because Jann wins a magical golden ticket to a computer games boot camp organised by a mad twitching Legolas and an extended montage where that gruff bloke from Stranger Things shouts abuse at teary eyed gamers from a helicopter. Ginger Spice is in the film too, playing Jann’s mum, which mostly involves reacting to news footage of her son’s races from her couch in Cardiff, like a sort of cinematic Gogglebox. Her powerhouse line in the first half of the movie is “Well, these lentils are nice”, which an actor of any calibre would be pushed to sell.

Anyway, everything turns out fine, as Jann – guided by the spirit of Kenny G – survives some made up high stakes races that are admittedly beautifully translated to the screen, with some innovative use of drones and first-person cameras that communicate some of the visceral feel of real-life (not computer game) racing. It's a shame, then, that the realistic action is rendered void by the unforgivable use of that awful extra gear, where all overtaking is done by mashing the accelerator and finding a magical extra cog. So the racing action is entertaining, but the Gran Turismo movie ultimately fails to tell us exactly why anyone actually enjoys playing the Gran Turismo game. Maybe the Jumanji version would have been better...

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