Bob Hoskins as Mario
John Leguizamo as Luigi
Samantha Mathis as Princess Daisy
Dennis Hopper as President Koopa
Fiona Shaw as Lena
Fisher Stevens as Iggy
Richard Edson as Spike
Dana Kaminski as Daniella
Mojo Nixon as Toad
This month, the 30th anniversary of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s Japanese debut (called the Famicom there) occurred. And the 20th anniversary of the movie based on Nintendo’s most popular series of games, Super Mario Bros., also came this year. So I feel that I have a crime against humanity to report. On this historic occasion, where, oh where, is the special, collector’s, super-duper, Blu-Ray edition? Just as the game revived a medium crippled by the arcade/Atari crashes of the early 1980s, did the movie that was to come not spawn a truly magnificent genre of cinema? Such worthy adaptations as Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, both Tomb Raiders, Doom, and Final Fantasy: the Spirits Within? Not to mention the career of one of the greatest filmakers to ever live: Uwe Boll? Who gives a crap about comic book movies and vampire/werewolf romances when you’ve got these masterpieces?
Why the sarcasm? Because I went through a deadly serious version of that at the age of ten. As the owner of a Super Nintendo, I was subscribing to Nintendo Power Magazine and came across an article plugging this debacle. They assured us all that it was the next Star Wars. Excuses were made for all the liberties like Luigi not having a mustache or the leading lady not being Peach. Take a look:
And so it was that this PR job tricked me into seeing this in the theater. Or maybe I was a dumb kid who would watch Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers a year or two later. But I feel better blaming the magazine. By the way, Nintendo, yes, the last four scans are your property, but why wouldn’t you be satisfied with the credit I’ve given? It’s a twenty-year-old issue of a magazine that has fallen to the slow death of print media. You’ve got no more money to make from this issue, so don’t sue. Please.
Even at that impressionable age, I wasn’t particularly impressed by this movie. Now that I’m all grown up, I find it to be downright awful. To tell you the truth, far from all of the video game movies are as bad as this movie. But the mistakes they keep making were made in this first attempt and never learned from. The chucking of the source material. The bad acting. The lousy scripts. The lack of effort in general put into these movies. So while dozens of video game movies have been made, very few are any good.
Some people say, “what do expect? Do video games have plots worthy of the big screen?” I’ll admit this isn’t exactly Citizen Kane. On the other hand, is anything Mario and Luigi do in their games really any harder to swallow than those superhero and vampire/werewolf movies I mentioned earlier? How does super-high jumping and the hurling of fireballs require any greater a suspension of disbelief than what we saw a month ago in Man Of Steel?
The only excuse is that video games tend to have rather limited plots. That does make it necessary to come up with additional storylines that fit into the context of the games. But all that would take is a little imagination and — gasp — respect for the source material. Sadly, Hollywood considers itself above the material.
The story of this movie ignores the Mushroom Kingdom and almost everything else about the games except that the Mario Brothers are plumbers from Brooklyn. they meet a woman named Daisy who turns out to be the child of a dinosaur. As the most recent Mario game (not counting spinoffs) at the time was the then-recent dinosaur-themed Super Mario World, we discover that the meteor that famously hit the earth in prehistoric times did not destroy the dinosaurs. Instead, it created a parallel universe in which they evolved. So the Koopas are designed after dinosaurs, not turtles like they’re supposed to be. Daisy is kidnapped by two dumb thugs named Iggy and Spike and taken to said parallel universe, with Mario and Luigi in pursuit. There we discover that a quite human-looking Bowser Koopa (not a King but a President-for-life) is planning to take over our world with technology that de-evolves humans into chimps (I wonder if this movie did even worse in evolution-skeptical areas). This movie’s version of Goombas, by the way are Koopa “criminals” who were de-evolved into huge reptilian slaves. I don’t see how this is any less stupid than the games, but I guess the filmakers thought it was.
The performances are pretty much universally awful. Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo are British and South American actors trying their hands at Brooklyn accents and failing miserably. Samantha Mathis is a little better as the damsel in distress but not nearly better enough. Most gamers who review this movie complain that she’s called Daisy in this movie and not Peach. Yet I remember that there actually was a woman named Daisy in the little-known Super Mario Land. Why they used her and not the one people recognize, I couldn’t guess. The worst is probably Dennis Hopper as Koopa. He’s extremely over the top as the bad guy, probably so as to keep up with the sillyness of the entire film. But that is an assumption based on the fact that he was usually a good actor.
This movie is, in part, a buddy comedy. That’s understandable because the games themselves have a lot of humor. But there are still two major problems. For one thing, the story is so outrageous as to translate into pure silliness. For another, the movie isn’t funny, just stupid. Here’s a sample of the dialogue:
Koopa: “Plumber alert!”
Luigi: “Where’s Daisy, butt breath?”
Koopa: “Looks like you got up on the wrong side of the nest this morning”
Luigi: “Aliens? We gotta deal with aliens, too?”
Mario: “Luigi, we’re the aliens.”
Luigi: “Whoa, cool!”
Mario & Luigi: “Glug, glug, glug, glug!”
Could this have been done better? Actually, there was already a decent blueprint available. At time this movie was released, there had been no less than three recent kids’ shows that brought the cartoonish world of mario to life. I have since rewatched much of the first two shows and they were reasonably well-done and true to the source material. They weren’t the Wizard Of Oz, but they still provide clues on how to do this. If you ask me, this movie should have been animated like those shows were and had a similar writing style. Such a series could have entertained us for years. Instead, we get… this.
The final seconds of this movie have Daisy visiting the Marios and asking for help. Apparently trouble is again brewing. Obviously, this was meant to set up a sequel. Except that Super Mario Bros. bombed at the box office. Thank God.
Again, I get that those who try to translate video games to film have it tough. Nonetheless, I still feel right to expect more than one of the worst movies ever made from arguably the brand that made the game industry we now know today.
Overall: 1 out of 10