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Orlando Bloom, Ginger Spice and the true story of a video gamer who became a real life racing driver: BRIAN VINER reviews Gran Turismo

Gran Turismo (12A, 135 mins) 

Rating:

Haunted Mansion (12A, 123 mins) 

Rating:

Meg 2: The Trench (12A, 116 mins) 

Rating:

There is something very 2023, and not in a good way, about this week’s two major releases.

One is inspired by a video game, the other by a theme-park ride.

Sometimes I wonder whether popular culture will keep gorging on itself until there’s nothing left. I see a Love Island ‘star’ has now signed up for Strictly. Maybe we get the nonsense we deserve.

Gran Turismo isn’t nonsense, but it might have been more honest simply to call it Product Placement. It tells the true story of Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe), who in 2011 was able to parlay his expertise at the eponymous driving-simulation game into a career as an actual racing driver.

Orlando Bloom plays, or rather over-plays, a hyperactive Nissan marketing executive called Danny Moore, who dreams up the idea of running a competition for Gran Turismo gamers.

Gran Turismo tells the true story of Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe), who in 2011 was able to parlay his expertise at the eponymous driving-simulation game Gran Turismo tells the true story of Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe), who in 2011 was able to parlay his expertise at the eponymous driving-simulation game

Gran Turismo tells the true story of Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe), who in 2011 was able to parlay his expertise at the eponymous driving-simulation game

Orlando Bloom plays, or rather over-plays, a hyperactive Nissan marketing executive called Danny Moore Orlando Bloom plays, or rather over-plays, a hyperactive Nissan marketing executive called Danny Moore

Orlando Bloom plays, or rather over-plays, a hyperactive Nissan marketing executive called Danny Moore

Geri Halliwell and Orlando Bloom attend the "Gran Turismo" Photocall at the 76th annual Cannes film festival in May Geri Halliwell and Orlando Bloom attend the "Gran Turismo" Photocall at the 76th annual Cannes film festival in May

Geri Halliwell and Orlando Bloom attend the ‘Gran Turismo’ Photocall at the 76th annual Cannes film festival in May

Gran Turismo isn't nonsense, but it might have been more honest simply to call it Product Placement Gran Turismo isn't nonsense, but it might have been more honest simply to call it Product Placement

Gran Turismo isn’t nonsense, but it might have been more honest simply to call it Product Placement

Archie Madekwe and David Harbour star Archie Madekwe and David Harbour star

Archie Madekwe and David Harbour star

The world’s best players will attend something called the GT Academy, where they will learn how to race for real, under the grudging tutelage of cynical ex-driver Jack Salter (David Harbour). One of them will then get a seat in the Nissan team and a shot at the big time.

The GT Academy recruits are obligingly cinematic: male, female, multi-racial, young, svelte and attractive. Not one of these obsessive gamers has pebble-thick lenses and personal hygiene issues.

No, the only issue here is that Jann’s father (Djimon Hounsou), a former professional footballer, thinks he’s wasting his life playing a ‘stupid’ video game. That gears up Neill Blomkamp’s film for the inevitable moment when the old man will realise his boy was right all along to make a best friend of his Sony PlayStation, and the pair will fall movingly into each other’s arms.

As for Jann’s ineffectual mum, who tries to defuse domestic tensions by praising the dinner-time lentils and gets understandably teary when she watches Jann crash live on telly, she is played by Geri Halliwell Horner.

This is tongue-in-cheek casting, for, in stark contrast with weepy Mrs Mardenborough, the former Ginger Spice, wife of Formula One bigwig Christian Horner, clearly already knows her airbox from her elbow. Aptly, she has landed in a completely formula-driven movie.

In fairness, some of the action sequences are nicely handled, as the narrative steers us inexorably towards Jann’s defining challenge at the Le Mans 24-hour race. And his is a story worth telling, even if we’re left wondering why, after all his against-the-odds triumphs, he never became a household name in real life.

But the repeated fusion of video-game imagery and live-action footage, which felt much more imaginative and valid in the recent film Tetris, here just filled me with the sense I’d been taken for a ride.

The Haunted Mansion ride at Disney theme parks first inspired a film in 2003, starring Eddie Murphy. 

Owen Wilson as Father Kent, Rosario Dawson as Gabbie, LaKeith Stanfield as Ben, Tiffany Haddish as Harriet, and Danny DeVito as Bruce in Disney's Haunted Mansion Owen Wilson as Father Kent, Rosario Dawson as Gabbie, LaKeith Stanfield as Ben, Tiffany Haddish as Harriet, and Danny DeVito as Bruce in Disney's Haunted Mansion

Owen Wilson as Father Kent, Rosario Dawson as Gabbie, LaKeith Stanfield as Ben, Tiffany Haddish as Harriet, and Danny DeVito as Bruce in Disney’s Haunted Mansion

This remake, with a heavyweight, largely African-American cast, does a pretty decent job of blending supernatural horror with comedy and aiming it principally at children. But as popcorn entertainment it is hit-and-miss stuff… mostly miss.

LaKeith Stanfield plays a former astrophysicist in deep mourning for his wife, who agrees to help a doctor (Rosario Dawson) and her young son (Chase W. Dillon) rid their spooky new home of the many unhappy spirits lurking there.

Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito and Jamie Lee Curtis play characters helping the project, with Jared Leto as the source of all the evil, a murderous 19th-century socialite called Crump (which facilitates more than a few thinly disguised Trump gags).

There is also a reason why Jason Statham’s character in Meg 2: The Trench is called Jonas, it being but a letter away from Jonah, the nearest thing in the Bible to a sub-aquatic hero.

The film begins millions of years ago in the Cretaceous period, which, contrary to perception, was before Statham started playing action heroes.

Having established the megalodon’s credentials as a dangerous piece of work, as you’d expect of a shark the size of a tower block, British director Ben Wheatley’s picture then whisks us forward to the present day, where Jonas and his team must tackle some unpleasantness on the ocean bed, not all of it created by the megalodon community once considered extinct.

It’s a relief, after almost two hours of this silliness, to come up for air.

By the way, as in the first film in 2018, a lot of the supporting players in Meg 2 are Chinese. Strangely enough, so was a lot of the co-production money.

There is also a reason why Jason Statham's character in Meg 2: The Trench is called Jonas, it being but a letter away from Jonah, the nearest thing in the Bible to a sub-aquatic hero There is also a reason why Jason Statham's character in Meg 2: The Trench is called Jonas, it being but a letter away from Jonah, the nearest thing in the Bible to a sub-aquatic hero

There is also a reason why Jason Statham’s character in Meg 2: The Trench is called Jonas, it being but a letter away from Jonah, the nearest thing in the Bible to a sub-aquatic hero

The film begins millions of years ago in the Cretaceous period, which, contrary to perception, was before Statham started playing action heroes The film begins millions of years ago in the Cretaceous period, which, contrary to perception, was before Statham started playing action heroes

The film begins millions of years ago in the Cretaceous period, which, contrary to perception, was before Statham started playing action heroes

 

Lousy acting, iffy writing… yes, it’s a right royal mess

Uma Thurman plays the U.S. President and Stephen Fry the British King in Red, White & Royal Blue (no cert, 118 mins, ★), a right royal mess of an adaptation of Casey McQuiston’s 2019 novel about a top-secret gay love affair.

The handsome protagonists are the President’s son, Alex (Taylor Zakhar Perez), and the King’s grandson, Prince Henry (Nicholas Galitzine), whose mutual loathing quickly develops into mutual anything-but.

The writer-director, Matthew Lopez, is American, which might be why Prince Henry uses U.S. colloquialisms yet makes laboured attempts to teach Alex the distinctions between the two versions of English: ‘By the way, we call them trousers, not pants, dear.’

But the many problems run far deeper than that. They include some truly lousy acting to go with the desperately iffy writing, as the film, trying both to be a comedy and a proud LGBTQ statement, falls splat between two thrones.

Taylor Zakhar Perez as Alex Claremont-Diaz and Nicholas Galitzine as Prince Henry in Prime Video's Red, White & Royal Blue Taylor Zakhar Perez as Alex Claremont-Diaz and Nicholas Galitzine as Prince Henry in Prime Video's Red, White & Royal Blue

Taylor Zakhar Perez as Alex Claremont-Diaz and Nicholas Galitzine as Prince Henry in Prime Video’s Red, White & Royal Blue

Heart Of Stone (12A, 122 mins, ★★) stars Gal Gadot as a crack super-agent called Rachel Stone, who works for a shadowy but noble organisation called the Charter. So high-tech that it can ‘access trillions of data points’, whatever that means, and send vital messages into your earpiece even as you hurtle down an alp terminating baddies, the Charter was formed to clean up the messes that governments leave behind.

Tom Harper’s film could only be more of a Mission Impossible rip-off if it were called Mission Unbelievable. It’s relentlessly silly, but there are a few lively stunts (if not in the MI league) and an impressive cast also featuring Jamie Dornan, Sophie Okonedo and, fleetingly, Glenn Close.

You Hurt My Feelings (15, 93 mins, ★★★) is an engaging drama about the lies we tell to those we love, to avoid hurting them or to boost their confidence.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays a happily married New York writer who overhears her psychotherapist husband (Tobias Menzies, Prince Philip in The Crown) criticising her yet-to-be published novel, having repeatedly told her how much he admires it.

Really, it’s a comedy of modern manners, smartly scripted and directed by Nicole Holofcener, whose impressive credits include the 2013 romcom Enough Said, with Louis-Dreyfus and James Gandolfini.

Red, White & Royal Blue and You Hurt My Feelings are available on Amazon Prime Video. Heart Of Stone is on Netflix.

Heart Of Stone (12A, 122 mins, ¿¿) stars Gal Gadot as a crack super-agent called Rachel Stone Heart Of Stone (12A, 122 mins, ¿¿) stars Gal Gadot as a crack super-agent called Rachel Stone

Heart Of Stone (12A, 122 mins, ★★) stars Gal Gadot as a crack super-agent called Rachel Stone

You Hurt My Feelings (15, 93 mins, ¿¿¿) is an engaging drama about the lies we tell to those we love You Hurt My Feelings (15, 93 mins, ¿¿¿) is an engaging drama about the lies we tell to those we love

You Hurt My Feelings (15, 93 mins, ★★★) is an engaging drama about the lies we tell to those we love

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