Grand Turismo a missed opportunity, Retribution lets Liam Neeson shine

Turismo falters on the track

Chalk up Neill Blomkamp's Gran Turismo as one of the biggest missed opportunities of the 2023 cinematic campaign. The film has an intriguing based-on-true-events backstory that's compelling fodder for a sports movie – a nobody from England gets a chance to compete on an international stage in a highly dangerous competition, proving the naysayers that he belongs.

Yet, the irony is whenever Turismo takes to the track, it's the visual equivalent of a manic 20-car pileup in a serpentine curve. Blomkamp's approach to the races is entirely misguided, as his focus is on the technique of filming these contests, rather than the skill that goes into competing in them. The result is a frustrating muddle, one in which the filmmaker shots himself in the foot, wasting a myriad of opportunities to deliver a genuinely thrilling movie.

Nissan executive Danny Moore (Orlando Bloom) wants to hold a contest in which the 10 best players of the Gran Turismo video game are invited to a camp where they will be trained to drive real race cars and compete in sanctioned international races. The suits-in-charge agree and the action shifts to England where Jann Mardenborough (Archie Madekwe) is doing what he does every day – sitting in his room, playing the titular game. He finds out about the contest, wins by a hair's breadth, and is invited to the inaugural racing camp with nine other hopefuls from around the world.

The film hits its stride here, thanks in large part to David Harbour, who embraces his role of racing instructor Jack Salter and runs with it. The relationship between him and Mardenborough, one that begins contentiously but develops into one of mutual respect, proves to be the linchpin of the movie. The two actors interact beautifully with one another; their moments have an emotional spark that's missing on the racetrack.

Unfortunately, it takes a backseat to Blomkamp's ego as he lets us know that down every straight away and in each turn, he's there. Swooping helicopter shots cut to images of the cars' dashboards or the engine's pistons turning, while moments in which we actually see the vehicles on the track are too brief, rapidly replaced by a glimpse of the brakes being applied or a racer's anguished expression. One need only to look to Ron Howard's sorely underappreciated Rush to see how these events should be captured and displayed on screen.

With Turismo, we are merely spectators, much like the video game players who drove that game to success. It's a shame Blomkamp couldn't get out of his own way to drive this one into the winner's circle. Instead, it's an unfortunate also-ran. In theaters

Retribution gives good Neeson

As far as Liam Neeson movies are concerned, his latest, Retribution, isn't bad. The work of author Nimrod Antal, a remake of a 2015 Spanish thriller, finds the Irish leading man as Matt Turner, a Berlin-based workaholic whose pursuit of the almighty dollar has alienated his family. Unbeknownst to him, his wife Heather (Embeth Davidtz) is seeking a divorce and asks him to take their kids to school so she can consult a lawyer. This gives Turner a chance to reconnect with his petulant teenage son, Zach (Jack Champion), who of course hates his guts, and his young daughter Emily (Lilly Aspell), who's eager to get her father's attention. Needless to say, it's a long ride to school.

Unfortunately, it gets longer when Turner gets a call from a stranger, who tells him there's a bomb rigged under his seat that he'll detonate if he doesn't do as he says. Of course, he thinks this is a crank call until he's told to drive to a location where one of his associates is parked and dealing with the same situation. His girlfriend is not handling this well and soon we're treated to a case of financer flambe.

Running a crisp 91 minutes, Antal keeps the story moving so as not to let the viewer concentrate on how ludicrous it all is. It doesn't help – we know it's ridiculous and that's part of the fun. Giving credit where it's due, the interactions between dad and his alienated kids in a confined space are quite good, Champion and Aspell keeping up with the veteran actor going from anger to fear then concern without missing a beat. I certainly wouldn't suggest this as a form of family therapy, but it works here.

The outlandish nature of the story eventually catches up with it, the third act containing an identity twist switcheroo that screenwriter Christopher Salmanpour hopes will be seen as inspired instead of the act of a desperate scribe. It doesn't quite work but by this point, as the saying goes, "In for a penny, in for a pound." At the very least, this revelation activates "Mean Neeson," which despite the quality of the films he's in, is always a welcome sight for action fans. Few actors grit their teeth and snarl bad dialogue with the conviction he does, his moments of justified rage the highlight of these B-movies.

In that regard, "Retribution" delivers, while providing a tutorial on how to solve the whole bomb-under-your-car-seat predicament, a handy bonus if you ever find yourself in a similar situation. In theaters.

About The Author

Chuck Koplinski

Writing for Illinois Times since 1998, Chuck Koplinski is a member of the Critic's Choice Association, the Chicago Film Critics Association and a contributor to Rotten Tomatoes. He appears on WCIA-TV twice a week to review current releases and, no matter what anyone says, thinks Tom Cruise's version of The Mummy...

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