Gran Turismo title screen, screengrab via Sony Pictures Entertainment YouTube.

Your enjoyment of Gran Turismo hinges on expectations. If you’re yearning for an accurate portrayal of car racing with surprises at every turn, this is not the sports movie for you. However, if you’re satisfied with a breezy, loosely based-on-a-true-story film that sticks to familiar turns, Gran Turismo might be right in your lane.

Gran Turismo is heavy on clichés and product placement. You wish it would go the extra mile because the roots of this story are remarkable. The tale of real-life driver Jann Mardenborough is brought to the silver screen. As the poster and trailer inform you, the Brit went from a PlayStation gamer to a professional racer. That’s an extraordinary feat and if the movie stuck closer to the truth instead of manufacturing drama, Gran Turismo could have been exceptional.

Gran Turismo is directed by Neill Blomkamp, who is best known for science fiction flicks such as District 9 and Elysium. This appears to be his first attempt at a sports movie. Directors are certainly entitled to have creative latitude. Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty plays fast and loose with the facts, but it was presented from the start as closer to a fictional drama than a recreation. Gran Turismo is packaged as an inspirational true story that unfolds with moments and characters that either don’t ring true or are simply made up.

Again, if you’re OK with that, you’ll probably be OK with Gran Turismo. If you’re not, it will be occasionally annoying and disappointing.

This underdog story gets the paint-by-numbers treatment. There’s the main character (Archie Madekwe plays Mardenborough) who is talented but misunderstood by his father who thinks his son is wasting time. There’s a coach figure who is tough but has a heart of gold and is skeptical about his new student. We have the coach and student eventually warming to each other. We have the third-act drama during which the main character develops self-doubt and contemplates quitting. Finally, there is the triumphant comeback.

Artificial intelligence could have written this script.

Sports films can overcome predictability with compelling characters and heightened drama. The Creed franchise is an excellent example. We know where those movies are going every step of the way, but the ride is enjoyable enough to make it palatable.

In Gran Turismo, the characters are astonishingly flat and forgettable. The lone saving grace is David Harbour, who does his best to drag this narrative to the finish line. Even with the script’s limitations he shines as Jack Slater, a former racer turned mechanic turned coach. If that job description seems far-fetched that’s because it is. There is no real-life Jack Slater.

That’s just one example of Gran Turismo unnecessarily creating something because it felt the need to adhere to a cliché. Even the movie’s most sobering moment is manufactured and controversial because the timeline is inaccurate. Considering the seriousness of what happened, it’s understandable why some would perceive it as insensitive. 

The best thing about Gran Turismo is the action. Using a nice blend of drone camerawork, practical effects, and CGI, the audience feels like they’re right in the middle of the race. Credit Blomkamp for pushing the limits here because the pacing makes it an easy watch.

There is a lot to like about Gran Turismo, but the script and character development needed another gear. 

Gran Turismo is currently available on a limited release and will be available in theatres nationwide on Aug. 25.

About Michael Grant

Born in Jamaica. Grew up in New York City. Lives in Louisville, Ky. Sports writer. Not related to Ulysses S. Grant, Anthony Grant, Amy Grant or Hugh Grant.