The young gamers turned drivers in the GT Academy are similarly thinly sketched. They’re inchoate obstacles who, once again, merely round out the biopic’s run time. The Academy’s more pressing narrative function is to serve as a site for Mardenborough and Jack’s budding rapport. The latter is skeptical that these keyboard warriors possess the physical and competitive acumen to become professionals. Jason Hall and Zach Baylin’s script plays an exhausting game of keep-away about Jack’s tragic backstory (are we supposed to believe that Mardenborough, a perpetually online teenager, didn’t Google his trainer?).
“Gran Turismo” doesn’t really kick into gear until Mardenborough moves past the Academy to real racing, where he competes against teams hostile to simulator racers. It’s difficult not to hear characters say that sim drivers will never replace real drivers without thinking about the real-life struggle SAG-AFTRA and WGA face against AI, even if Mardenborough is a real person. Blomkamp portrays people like Mardenborough as plucky outsiders, not unlike the bobsledders in “Cool Runnings.” The film’s use of common sports movie tropes unexpectedly aligning with real-world concerns makes for uneasy tension.
Those tropes keep the viewer engaged even when the on-screen storytelling doesn’t wholly deserve it. While you’d expect editors Colby Parker, Jr. and Austyn Daines, along with cinematographer Jacques Jouffret, to match real gameplay rhythms and virtual visuals, the freeze frames that tell viewers what lap we’re on crush the pace, and the information provided is often repetitive to the dialogue.
Even so, tropes are tropes because they work. For Mardenborough and Jack, it’s us against the world. A rivalry between Mardenborough and an ultra-rich racing team adds a dash of tension; a tragic crash gives Mardenborough a comeback story; a harrowing speech by the ever-dependable Hounsou puts the finishing touches on this underdog story and fully invests the viewer in the cares of an unassuming teenager. While “Gran Turismo” has greater issues than what’s outlined here, some nitpicky, others larger in scope—Madekwe as a lead is low-key to the point of invisibility—Blomkamp furnishes just enough cautionary thrills.
In theaters Friday, August 25th.