Super Mario Brothers - 1993
Disparaged widely for getting so much "wrong'" about the Mushroom Kingdom of Mario and Luigi
Bob Hoskins - Mario Mario
John Leguizamo - Luigi Mario
Dennis Hopper - King Koopa
Samantha Mathis - Princess Daisy
Fisher Stevens - Iggy
Richard Edson - Spike
Fiona Shaw - Lena
Dana Kaminski - Daniella
Mojo Nixon - Toad
Dean Semler (not credited)
"Are you telling me a guy can be arrested for being a plumber?"
The Mario Brothers hit the streets in their work van to save a world that's not their own.
The Story in a Nutshell
Princess Daisy welcomes the efforts of New York City plumbers Mario and Luigi to make things right in an alternative dimensional world where her father, the rightful ruler, has been usurped by hated dictator "King Koopa."
Mario, My Mario
The film Super Mario Bros has a poor reputation. The script changed the names of some key characters and made drastic changes to the fairy tale setting of "the mushroom kingdom." Instead, a dystopian, junior-league Blade Runner environment (except with dancing and dinosaurs, and Soylent Green Police Cars and trash trucks) welcomes Mario and Luigi as they battle to defeat Koopa.
The ideas that power the film are few and are repeated frequently, though stars Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo do what professional actors do and try to carry the whole mass of drab dialogue forward. The cast gives it a strong try (maybe too strong). Phony New York accents abound, and the reference is not complimentary, but seems to suggest brain damage with people from the Big Apple.
The best parts of the film are the bits of dialogue that are both ridiculous and somehow right at home:
Lena (Fiona Shaw): "I think you should know that Iggy and Spike have been preaching your overthrow at the bolo bar."
Koopa (Dennis Hopper): "Really? I am very disappointed in you, cousins."
Spike (Richard Edson): "Fascist!"
Iggy (Fisher Stevens): "Oppressor of the proletariat!"
Koopa (points to self): "Guy in charge!"
Lena (to Spike):"Egg sucker!"
This is potentially the Plan 9 from Outer Space of gaming movies. Creative incompetence played a major role in the making of Plan 9 and the jumble of Super Mario Bros suffers from a similar problem. There's a difference, though, Ed Wood's movie is brimming with sincerity, and that's certainly not the case with the cynicism that clouds SMB. It's as if the creative minds behind Mario had no confidence in the qualities that had made the original game popular, and so "helped along" the bare plot, moving from fantasy adventure into science-fiction.
Set design and outrageous costuming helps this movie, though, but badly directed action sequences sabotage the movie's momentum repeatedly. These bits are so tame and without originality that, for example, cars ploughing into each other (and it looks like the same six cars throughout the whole film) has the appearance of a high school production of The Road Warrior taking place in Brooklyn.
The movie set of Koopa's empire is small and claustrophobic, it seems to be about two blocks of New York City decorated with neon and steel staircases (though it is more likely a studio warehouse in Hollywood, USA). The director's camera angles are so pitiful that instead of making the large crowd scenes seem expansive and limitless, Super Mario Brothers starts to look like a Broadway stage play, with too much stuffed into much too little space.
This conflux of badness comes together to make for many entertaining scenes, and it isn't clear if the directors realized the badness and milked it by letting the actors chew-up the scenery (Dennis Hopper, for example, seems to think his co-actors are deaf and does a great deal of shouting) or if an outright strategy to wreck the chances for box office appeal was underlying the direction of Super Mario Brothers.
Perhaps with the action scenes being so obviously pedestrian and boring , someone had the great idea to inject some Blake Edwards Pink Panther style farce into the script, but handled with an adolescent stupidity and a spirit of under-achieving that points out no one really knows what they're doing.
The plot is machine-like heading toward the predictable triumph of Mario and Luigi, and an undeserved bid for a sequel ends the tale.
The element that best provides the entertainment on this film are the actors, all of whom seem to be slumming. Hoskins throws himself forward as the impervious Mario, totally committed to whatever ridiculous moment the director and script have thought up. Luigi (John Leguizamo) alternates between mock-New York sub-IQ idiocy and then solemn intelligence.
Samantha Mathis has only to appear sincere and alternatively naive and helpless as Princess Daisy (though at the end she is toting a weapon). Dana Kaminski is onscreen wearing a tight dress (with vertical stripes, something Fiona Shaw is also outfitted with) and Kaminski has little to do since she is taken hostage early in the tale and only has to wait for rescue, kept in a room with other New Yorkers chosen apparently for their accent and outfits (Kaminski never gets into a different outfit until the very last scene of the film).
Fiona Shaw seems to be playing a role that serves King Koopa (Dennis Hopper) that echoes that of Baroness Bomburst (Anna Quayle) as the stockinged consort to evil Baron Bomburst in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. This comparison helps pin-point another failing of the Super Mario Bros film: it's not clear who the audience for the movie is - it needs to cater to kids in order to be a legitimate Nintendo tie-in, but the attitudes and ideas are for a much older demographic. What if pop star Madonna made a kid's film?
Francesca P. Roberts (as "Bertha") has the thankless task of being a mushroom kingdom street thief, then a dancer who throws punches, and then helps Mario and Luigi escape. Why? Apparently because Mario is a great dancer, and because whomever was in charge of the writers cannot think their way out of plot dead-ends.
Dennis Hooper (King Koopa) raves (without much sincerity it seems to me) about his kingdom being in exile "65 million years" due to a meteor that split the dinosaurs and mammals into separate dimensions. His world has foul air, foul food and foul water (or so he complains, though everyone seems to be happily eating the strange food and dancing at Soul Train discos) and the other world would be a much more suitable kingdom, if combined with his existing one (of course). The script writers use bureaucratic whining to input humor into Hopper's cardboard villain, with some success. But like everything else in the film, there are only brief flashes of real creativity and then the film falls back into lock-stop predictability.
Samantha Mathis - Princess Daisy
Dana Kaminski - Daniella
Fiona Shaw - Lena
It is meant to be a heroic tale, but instead it is mostly mock-heroic, underscoring how badly the creative direction underestimates the source material. Plenty of joking and innuendo is thrown around to let the audience know that someone in charge of making this film thought it important to announce they just couldn't take it very seriously, which wastes so much of the potential of the movie. A good cast and art direction cannot make up for cowardness at the top.
Whatever appetites the producers thought this movie might satisfy proved to be phantoms, because the movie flopped badly on original release. With time a certain kind of cult-following has developed, and for the fun of mocking a movie there's plenty to work with in Super Mario Brothers 104 minutes.
Original page Sept 2012