"Know your lane!" "Finish your lap!" "Always carry a spare!" Exhortations come thick and fast in Neill Blomkamp’s (District 9, Elysium) fact-based racing drama – so much so that there are times it resembles a full-length version of those Armed Services recruitment ads they show before the main feature.
In another life, Jann Mardenborough might well have wound up like that bloke from Blyth who got "made in the Royal Navy". Instead, the Cardiff gamer found a different way to achieve his potential: by parlaying his skill on the titular racing simulator into a real-life career as a professional race-car speedster. How he did it provides the compelling engine for a film that is less a plug for the PlayStation phenomenon than a motorsports Rocky for its 80-million-odd players: a rags-to-riches tale of a plucky British underdog who, like Stallone’s Philly slugger before him, got handed a shot at the title.
Just in case we don’t make that blindingly obvious connection, writers Jason Hall and Zach Baylin give their hero (played by a slightly anodyne Archie Madekwe) his own Mickey in the form of testy taskmaster Jack (a charismatic David Harbour): a former driver turned grumpy garage hand who needs more than opportunist marketing whizz Danny (Orlando Bloom) to convince him that a kid with no experience beyond his bedroom belongs in a Nissan jumpsuit.
And he is not alone either. Jann’s ex-footballer father (Djimon Hounsou) is just as skeptical, as are the pros into whose company he’s suddenly thrust. The plot that follows is aptly structured much like a video game, with Jann facing courses and races of escalating difficulty (Silverstone, Hockenheim, the daunting and deadly Nürburgring) en route to the grueling, 24-hour endurance feat of Le Mans.
Blomkamp keeps the on-track tension revving nicely, but it’s not all gear shifts and tire squeals. Along the way, there’s time for some sweetly PG romance with a girl from back home (Maeve Courtier-Lilley) and some gentle ribbing over Jann’s chill-out songs of choice (Kenny G’s Songbird, Orinoco Flow by Enya). Given his mum is played by Geri Horner (née Halliwell), you might’ve thought that the Spice Girls would have made it onto his playlist. Yet while her (limited) involvement surely counts as one of Blomkamp’s more puzzling directorial decisions, it’s certainly no bar to Gran Turismo emerging as a fun if formulaic thrill ride.
Gran Turismo is in UK cinemas from August 9 and in US cinemas from August 25. You can read our chat with actors David Harbour and Archie Madekwe here.