Super Mario Bros. (1993) / Adventure-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: PG for violence
Running time: 104 min.
Cast: Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Samantha Mathis, Fiona Shaw, Fisher Stevens, Richard Edson, Dana Kaminski, Lance Henriksen, Dan Castellaneta (voice)
Director: Annabel Jenkel, Rocky Morton
Screenplay: Parker Bennett, Terry Runte, Ed Solomon
Review published June 24, 2007
The rampant popularity of the "Mario" Nintendo games, an even more wildly popular spin-off of the original "Donkey Kong" video game, has produced some pretty bad entertainment in other mediums. The movie, Super Mario Bros., is, more or less, an attempt to give a cinematic expansion to the surreal world that had been the "Super Mario Bros." series of games for the home console -- except, it really wasn't. Not at all. Sure, It has Mario, Luigi, Koopa, Yoshi, and several other characters and items from the video games, but hardly any of them resembled their pixelated counterparts in the slightest, neither in appearance nor spirit.
It's the first major motion picture to be based directly on a video game, and it is arguably, despite the stars and budget, the worst of them all. Since it doesn't really bother trying to adhere to the nature of the video game (anyone who has ever played the game would be hard-pressed to find similarities), it isn't for the game's fans. By being too dark, ugly and violent, it also doesn't really merit being called a family film, which pretty much negates the kids market, despite its generous PG rating. Lastly, even ignoring all of its missed opportunities to cater to its large niche market, it just flat out sucks when just taking it on its own terms, independent of its origins. It's not just bad, it's astonishingly awful, and no amount of special effects and action can generate any appeal whatsoever, especially when these visual components are among the more repugnant qualities to an already disheartening experience.
The film starts off with a narration trying to explain the emergence of an alternate dimension caused by (what is now known as) Brooklyn being struck by a meteorite millions of years ago. In this alternate dimension, humans evolved from lizards, rather than monkeys, as believed in our own realm. There is also only one city, Dinohattan, surrounded by endless desert, and currently presided over by the evil Koopa (Hopper, Red Rock West). Koopa is out to get a powerful rock crystal, a fragment of the original meteorite, that he needs to merge the two dimensions, giving him more realms to conquer.
Here is where we meet our heroes, a couple of plumbers named Mario Mario (Hoskins, Who Framed Roger Rabbit) and Luigi Mario (Leguizamo, Romeo + Juliet), who, in pursuit of a kidnapped new friend in a paleontology student named Daisy (Mathis, Little Women), who happens to have the rock in the form of a necklace, find a portal into the Dinohattan dimension. Dangers lurk all around, as the brave brothers must battle the mighty King Koopa and his lizard horde to rescue Daisy and thwart Koopa's evil plans to destroy their world.
The directorial team of Annabel Jenkel and Rocky Morton, creators of the culty mid-1980s TV phenomenon that was "Max Headroom", were clearly not the creative minds to turn to when trying to bring the characters and main vibe of the "Super Mario" world to life. For one thing, they seem far more interested in creating some sort of gargantuan, futuristic world than anything resembling the one found in the game itself. This also means that they get to do fun things that directors like to do, namely, employ chase scenes, car crashes, shoot outs, and massive explosions whenever possible. Perhaps in the world of Judge Dredd these sorts of things are par for the course, but these are definitely not anything you'd find in a Mario game (ok, so "Mario Kart" has car crashes...) Despite a huge budget, they just weren't able to make these environs look like they existed naturally, always appearing like these characters were on a movie set, and a poorly conceived one at that. Looks like someone sneezed fungus all over the city, although considering that the Mario Brothers spend a great deal of their time trudging through sewers all day, it makes a certain sense that they don't find these ugly set designs and creaturesto be strange.
The actors have choice but to spout out their dialogue in over-the-top fashion. Although Mario would later be voiced with a thick Italian accent, the creators of the film see him as a Brooklyn native, which Hoskins does a commendable job in convincing us he is from. However, given that much of the film is utter nonsense, not even the best of actors could have made any of it remotely tolerable. Sadly, most of the energetic performances only add to the annoyance factor, with sidekick characters played by Leguizamo, as well as Fisher Stevens (Mystery Date) and Richard Edson (Do the Right Thing) as a couple of daft evil henchmen, not even remotely funny in the slightest.
When I say the film is nonsense, I really do mean nonsense. Absolutely no thought went in to making this alternate world that somehow has people evolving from lizards, though they resemble their primate-derived counterparts in almost every detail. They also all speak English, and even have similar ethnic accents. Although most of their world is contained in one location, they drive cars (they've even paved roads for them with what precious little land they possess).
Most people who have ever played the video game version probably retain a great deal of fond memories of overcoming many of the well-designed and quite fun obstacles that were a challenge. Perhaps they even bonded with a great many friends and new acquaintances as they had sleepovers where they would play the game until the wee hours of the morning. Sadly, this movie version can never remotely come close to tapping into even the slightest traces of nostalgia value, as nearly everything about it seems alien from its source inspiration, like a grotesque, nightmarish mutation more so than something for fans. Playing any of the Mario video games for 30 seconds provides far more entertainment value and interest than the cumulative "good stuff" found in this 104-minute guaranteed killjoy.
©2007 Vince Leo