Product placement is nothing new in movies, but Gran Turismo takes it to an entirely new level. This based-on-a-true-story racing flick opens with a reverential infomercial for the Sony PlayStation game on which the film is based, and its creator Kazunori Yamauchi. Imagine a Bond film opening with the 007 slipping on his Omega Seamaster and taking a refreshing slug of Heineken and you’re on the right lines.
The film’s main sales pitch is delivered early on by real-life Nissan marketing man, Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom). Back in 2011, he saw a way to reach ‘untapped markets’ by turning console jockeys into real-life racing drivers. Reimagined on screen by a slimily persuasive Bloom, Nissan’s GT Academy is born. With David Harbour’s jaded ex-racer, Jack Salter, to beat him into shape, young Londoner Jann Mardenborough (Midsommar’s Archie Madekwe) and a clutch of other wannabes are put through their paces. ‘This whole thing is a marketing extravaganza,’ notes the smug exec.
He’s speaking for the whole film, of course, where a loving pan over a shiny Japanese sports car or lingering shot of a corporate logo is never far away and a character’s grief is soothed by the gift of a Sony MP3 player. The latter is pretty egregious: a supposedly heartfelt moment powered by barefaced cynicism.
Gran Turismo takes product placement to an entirely new level
For all that corporate shilling, Gran Turismo is an occasionally thrilling big-screen experience. Director Neill Blomkamp, who cut his teeth with a trio of proudly original sci-fis in District 9, Chappie and Elysium, delivers racing scenes that would have had Tony Scott lighting a satisfied cigar. One high-speed crash at Germany’s notorious Nürburgring sucks the air from your lungs.
There aren’t as many surprises in the storytelling. From the gruelling training, to the mentor who tells Jann that he’ll never make it, to the sudden tragedy, to the comeback and the the team-up with a former rival, it’s all very Top Gun (or, if you prefer, Days of Thunder). There’s even the shadow of a dad (an underused Djimon Hounsou) whose own career disappointments as a journeyman footballer lead him to apply a cautious handbrake to his son’s ambition.
Those family tensions are pretty beige, although it’s hard to tire of hearing Geri Halliwell delivering lines like ‘these lentils are quite nice’ as Mardenborough’s peacemaking mum. (The presence of the ex-Spice Girl, who is married to Red Bull Racing supremo Christian Horner, adds an iconic ’90s brand to the mix.)
The surrogate father-son dynamic between Harbour and the impressive Madekwe works much better. The Stranger Things star gets everything he can from the material as a cranky pit legend who slowly warms to his protégé’s skill and tenacity. He offers a much-needed human core for its hell-for-leather race scenes to orbit around. Gran Turismo may ultimately be a glossy marketing exercise, but there are moments that’ll leave you with the right kind of whiplash.
In cinemas worldwide Aug 11