Super Mario Bros.
Released 1993
Hollywood Pictures
Lightmotive/Allied Filmmakers
Directed by: Rocky Morton & Annabel Jankel Running Time: 104 min 1.85:1 Rated: PG
Cast : Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Samantha Mathis, Fisher Stevens, Richard Edson, Fiona Shaw, Mojo Nixon
I do like the gag where the cameras in the alternate dimension resemble guns with elongated lenses and a laser sight.
Daisy is introduced as a student of paleontology on an active dig site, and she has dinner with the Marios hours later in the exact same clothes. Yes, this bothers me. How many women do you know will go straight to a date after working in the dirt for an entire day?
I also like that Mario is presented as the older, wiser brother who has his own love interest, even if it’s not the Princess from the games.
It allows Mario to play the mentor role for Luigi and Daisy.
The seven Koopalings from Super Mario Bros. 3 would not have transitioned well to live action. The movie was smart to simplify that down to two Koopa cousins.

Review by Jay Wilson

I actually liked Super Mario Bros. when I first saw it in 1993. Sure, even as a child, I questioned a number of decisions, but when Daisy showed up at the end for the obligatory cliffhanger, I genuinely walked away looking forward to a sequel that never materialized. Revisiting it as an adult twenty-five years later, needless to say, my reaction is less positive even with the contrarian in me wanting to like it just to satisfy my disdain for blindly following the mainstream consensus. But even with all the positive bias in the world, the best I can muster is a resounding, “Meh.” I don’t like it. I don’t hate it. And to be perfectly truthful, I really don’t know what to make of it.

Live action carries with it certain expectations, not to mention technical limitations, that would make a one-to-one conversion impractical, if not impossible. A live action movie is expected to look real, and a plot based around evolution lets a live action Dennis Hopper play Bowser (Koopa, whatever) as opposed to a creature effect, which most likely would not have aged well. So I’m fine with the magical Mushroom Kingdom represented as a dystopian, parallel dimension where the dinosaurs disappeared to sixty-five million years ago. I’m fine with Koopa and his kin being descendants of said dinosaurs in said dimension trying to get the missing piece of the meteorite to reunite both worlds. The games really don’t explain anything any better, and they’ve been recycling the same kidnapped princess plot for thirty years. I don’t care. I don’t play Mario for its compelling narrative. And you know what? Since it gives the princess (Daisy) something to do besides sit around in “another castle,” waiting to be rescued, I actually prefer this over the game’s premise for a feature length motion picture.

Having said that, I don’t like the cinematic interpretation of the goombas who, in the games, are little mushroom-shaped creatures waddling around, not posing much of an obstacle, and exist pretty much just to piss you off when you are stupid enough to run into them, usually while not paying attention or while sprinting through the level faster than you can react. Goombas are not lumbering Frankenstein monsters with little reptilian heads and flame throwers. Don’t ask me how a live action movie is supposed to represent a walking mushroom with eyes, feet, and fangs—I don’t know—but this isn’t it. I don’t necessarily have a problem with lumbering Frankenstien monsters with little reptilian heads and flame throwers being in the movie, just don’t call them goombas because they are not goombas. Put a turtle shell on their backs and call them koopa troopas or something. Why do I draw the line there? I don’t know. I really don’t. Of all the things they changed, for some reason, that is the part that bothers me. And that pretty much sums up my opinion: “The elephant can stay in the room, but damn it, his fleas have to go!”

It’s the stupid things that bother me. Not the big things. The little things. Stupid little things. Such as when Mario and Luigi pursue Koopa’s minions through some underground tunnels after they kidnap Daisy. “This way,” Mario says, pulling his brother along, and he knows for sure because, “I’ve been listening to pipes all my life!” Exactly one cut to show them entering the tunnel followed by exactly one cut to show them actually in the tunnel, and Mario is ready to pull out, “Luigi, this is the wrong way! That’s a dead end!” Ten seconds have transpired. Ten. That’s not an estimate. I paused the DVD and looked at the time signature. Exactly two cuts and ten seconds, and Mario goes from being absolutely, swear-on-his-mother’s-life certain Daisy is in this specific tunnel to being positive she’s not. I’m assuming the chase was originally intended to go on longer and was either not filmed or cut and the “wrong way” dialog was left in as an oversight. But oversight or intentional, it’s jarring seeing a character contradict himself before he has time to second guess himself.

Dennis Hopper has my favorite line in the movie, dismissing Luigi’s threats with, "I’ll meet you in the playground after school." The condescension in his delivery gives it more of an "eff you" quality than the actual f-word.
So, the former king was de-evolved into a fungus which now engulfs the entire city, prompting Koopa to, at one point, refer to Dinohattan as the Mushroom Kingdom.
With Blade Runner’s art director, The Road Warrior’s cinematographer, Terminator 2’s editor, Back to the Future’s composer, and Stargate’s creature effects artist, the individual components of Super Mario Bros. are actually pretty damn good.
It just doesn’t come together.

Midway through the movie, Koopa gets fed up with his idiotic underlings and blasts them with an evolution ray to create smarter, more advanced underlings who still bumble around like morons only now they do it with a bigger vocabulary. They get captured by the Mario brothers and decide to help them out. Fair enough, they’re prisoners. Koopa sent them on a mission to get the meteorite fragment back, and the Italian plumbers are just a means to an end. Then out of the blue, these two evolved underlings go all in on the anti-Koopa protest movement. And by the way, these underlings? They’re Koopa’s cousins—they’re blood relatives. I get that the evolution beam made them smarter which in turn made them realize how evil their cousin is and that he needs to be stopped, but all of it is implied, if not entirely off-screen. No conversation, no line of dialog—not even one knowing glance at each other where the unspoken decision is made. One minute they’re unshakably loyal, and the next they’re willing to help any Tom, Dick, or Harry who claims to oppose him, even if said opposition is invaders from a completely different reality.

Later still, Mario and Luigi are pursuing the kidnapped Daisy in a strange alien city. They go to cross a ventilation shaft in Koopa's skyscraper, and Luigi seems to take a miraculous leap and hovers in the air. “Just jump! C’mon, Mario, you just gotta believe!” And as Mario reluctantly takes his leap of faith, Luigi suddenly tries to stop him, “No wait! It’s a hook!” So, yeah, let’s set aside the unrealistic logistics of Luigi rigging himself to hang from a conveniently placed hook in the two seconds when Mario covered his eyes. Even good movies play fast and loose with what characters can see and do. But is this really the best time to prank your brother with a dangerous practical joke that could get him killed? In the middle of a rescue mission to save your soul mate from God knows who doing God knows what to her only God knows where? Granted, I walked into a movie based on a video game where a man can touch a leaf, grow a raccoon tail, and fly—clearly I’m not here for the intellectual stimulation—but do you really want random decisions coming out of left field to make the audience stop and say, “Wait, what?”

Do you really want them asking any questions in a movie where a sentient fungus helps a couple of plumbers from Brooklyn who are doing battle with the descendent of a T-Rex?

As negative as that sounds, I don’t hate the movie. To hate a movie, I have to hate the characters, and I don’t. I probably should, but I don’t. One thing that helps Super Mario Bros. is its stellar cast. Bob Hoskins was born to play Mario; he looks the part, he sounds the part, and live action gives the famous Italian plumber a new dimension: he gets mad. When he hears the name of his business rival and growls, “Scapelli!” his voice drips with New York contempt, when he and Luigi are chasing after Daisy’s kidnappers and he goes off on a rant, “No, you’re not gonna kill ‘em! Not if I get there first! I’m gonna break every bone in their body, and then I’m gonna kill ‘em. I’m really gonna kill ‘em!” I couldn’t help but think, “Man, this Mario is kind of a badass! BOB HOSKINS FOR SMASH BROS!” Make him DLC, I don't care; I'd buy a whole Nintendo Switch just for that.

So, the meteorite blasts everything except for Daisy ... or people Daisy is touching ... or things held by people Daisy is touching ... ?
Eh, whatever. I’ll go with it. I don’t like it, but I’ll let it slide.
The de-evolution guns that Koopa plans to take over our world with are actually Super Scopes, the light gun peripheral for Nintendo’s console at the time, the Super NES.

John Leguizamo performs nothing short of an absolute miracle keeping Luigi somewhat likeable despite the god awful writing. Jesus Christ, I hate the writing. I know people misspeak, and I know that tendency gets amplified when said people are nervous, say, when talking to an attractive member of the opposite sex. But screen writers always try to make it “funny” and find the most clunky, overdone, and painfully contrived way for a character to mix up their words and embarrass themselves. I personally have the super power of being able to phrase something the worst way possible in face-to-face conversations, so I’m something of an expert when I say that what makes it funny in real life is that it happens randomly, spontaneously, and organically, but when an entire scene is predicated upon anxiety-inspired miscommunication, it becomes stilted and structured and so it loses its humor and just comes across as awkward. But I digress.

I enjoyed Samantha Mathis as Princess Daisy who has the thankless job of giving a straight-faced reaction to being told her father is a giant, city-sized, mushroom, selling an awkward and poorly-written relationship with what Hollywood thought was a cool bro back in 1993, and being a damsel in distress without being completely worthless like some other Peachy Princess that will go unnamed. And what’s particularly interesting is Mathis’ body language, facial expressions, and mannerisms succeed at painting Daisy as an outsider who has never quite fit in whereas the script outright fails. Something about how she will start to smile and then stop as if it to make sure it’s the right thing to do, how her face will fully bloom with emotion once she gets confirmation she’s accepted. There’s a nuance and subtlety—a sincerity—to her unspoken performance that’s sorely lacking in the dialog she’s forced to recite.

And, of course, Dennis Hopper can play a creepy, over the top, reptilian villain like no one else, and it doesn’t hurt that the very few glimpses of wit the script does possess reside in his lines. I like that he’s a flawed villain. While menacing and imposing by virtue of Hopper’s onscreen presence, he’s not quite the evil overlord he wants to be. When issuing a stream of orders in preparation for interdimensional warfare, he pauses as if there’s some nagging thing he’s forgetting—oh yeah, “Where’s my pizza?” A little bit later, in the middle of his gloating when he seems to have won, he gets interrupted, “Sir, your pizza’s here.” “Not now.” They’re nice little moments properly threaded into the story, properly threaded into his character, and Mr. Hopper nails the comedic timing perfectly, effortlessly juggling the two aspects of his character. And ironically, this comic relief adds a bit of depth and realism because you never can be fully in control running one household, much less an entire city. Something is going to go wrong, if not everything.

This movie and this ending was the one that taught me Hollywood sets up sequels before it knows there’s going to be a sequel. I was so looking forward to a Super Mario Bros. 2 with a badass Sarah Connor inspired Daisy.

Now, these characters still do things that irritate me, a lot of things actually, but there’s a difference between not liking a character and not liking their actions. Despite what the script makes them do, I like them just enough to suspend my disbelief, fully aware that I’ve hated similar characters played by other actors in other movies for far less. For some reason, though, this cast and these performances make it work. Call it another case of me drawing the line at the fleas and not the elephant if you like, but maybe now you see why I don’t quite know what to make of this movie.

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