Super Mario Bros.

1993, Movie, PG, 104 mins

Review

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Despite eye-catching sets and smart casting, this first feature-length film to be adapted from a video game is a bloated muddle.

Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo play Mario and Luigi Mario, likable Brooklyn plumbers who are barely surviving in the face of competition from the dreaded, much more efficient Scapelli brothers. Meanwhile, the very same Scapellis are threatening a paleontological dig run by spirited college student Daisy (Samantha Mathis), since they want to erect a new high-rise on the site. Far underneath Daisy's dig exists Dinohattan, a subterranean world of lizard-humans presided over by the mad King Koopa (Dennis Hopper).

A crystal on a chain around Daisy's neck brings together the Mario brothers, Daisy, and Koopa. It is the crucial missing piece of a meteor that originally sealed Dinohattan off from the real world in prehistoric times; if reunited with the rest of the meteor, it would cause the two worlds to merge, expanding Koopa's domain. Koopa has sent two inept goons, Iggy (Fisher Stevens) and Spike (Richard Edson), to the surface to recover both the crystal and Daisy, who is in fact the daughter of the true King of Dinohattan, who was deposed by Koopa. The true King has been devolved into a fungus by Koopa's evolution/devolution accelerator; Koopa uses this on all who oppose him, turning them into eight-foot-tall "Goombas," simple-minded soldiers with tiny lizard heads.

Luigi is lovestruck by Daisy after a chance encounter and asks her out on a date. While Daisy is showing Luigi her dig, the Scapelli brothers try to flood it, causing Luigi to call in Mario for assistance. They stop the flooding, but Daisy is captured by Iggy and Spike, who take her down to Dinohattan, hotly pursued by the Marios. After some expenditure of action-movie energy, the Marios save Daisy, along with Mario's girlfriend Daniella (Dana Kaminski) and a number of other women who have been mistakenly kidnapped by Iggy and Spike. They also thwart Koopa's plan, devolving him into a puddle of pre-evolutionary muck while re-evolving Daisy's father back into the true King (Lance Henriksen). Daisy and Luigi are parted when Daisy decides to stay behind and help her father govern Dinohattan, but she resurfaces at the fadeout to seek the Marios' help in another adventure, presumably to be detailed in a theoretical sequel.

In their second film effort (the first was the 1988 remake of D.O.A.), commercial and music video directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel again prove themselves unable to sustain a feature-length project. (In fact, industry trade papers reported that producer Roland Joffe attempted to salvage the film with some uncredited directorial input.) SUPER MARIO staggers along in fits and starts, with an overstuffed plot--penned by the comedy team of Parker Bennett and Terry Runte and screenwriter Ed Solomon (BILL & TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE)--that makes less sense than the video game. The cluttered, incoherent narrative wouldn't have mattered as much if SUPER MARIO had some interesting characters. Unfortunately, it's on this level that the film most closely approximates its two-dimensional source. The Mario brothers are devoid of all personality, and the other protagonists are strictly standard-issue, from Koopa, played as a PG-rated Frank Booth by Hopper, to Iggy and Spike, buffoon bad-guy accomplices of a type that can be found in far too many films of this genre. The energetic cast makes the most of what little they have to work with, though Hopper has turned in this kind of performance more than once too often. Hoskins, too, seems bored at having to react to special effects yet again.

SUPER MARIO does try to be different, with its ethnic heroes and occasionally tongue-in-cheek humor. But the ingredients it uses are old and stale--even down to the set designs by David L. Snyder that, though imaginative, too clearly recall his Oscar-nominated work on BLADE RUNNER. Since it fails on so many counts, it's hard to believe SUPER MARIO will be remembered as anything more than a piece of movie history marginalia. (Violence.) leave a comment

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