When I think of Super Mario Brothers, I picture the mushroom kingdom; a lush, colourful video game world populated by cute characters and evil turtles. I think of two plumber brothers with thick Italian accents riding dinosaurs with stretchy tongues. A princess in distress. Giant angry bullets.
I don’t think of a drab, slimy, early-90s Brooklyn oozing in fungus or gun-toting citizens on welfare clustered in an overpopulated hive of a neighborhood. I don’t picture Mario and Luigi dancing with nine-foot tall Goombas in an elevator. Gratuitous breast close-ups. Parallel universes united by meteorite pieces. If Super Mario Bros is supposed to be a goofy kids movie, why’d they shoot it on the recycled set of Demolition Man? The film has this grimy, grunge look that, when partnered with a series of silly Home Alone style slapstick gags, just doesn’t work. None of the characters look right. This movie missed the mark, even more than I do launching Mario out of that cannon in Super Mario ’64 (which is a lot, by the way; I’m terrible at that game).
Instead of a talking mushroom, Toad is a folk singer with a wacky hairdo.
Plumbers Mario (Bob Hoskins) and Luigi (John Leguizamo) are broke and struggling to find work in New York City. That’s right, Mario is from New York in this thing; mid-forties with a raspy Brooklyn accent. His Latino apprentice Luigi is a dim-witted conspiracy theorist who loves trashy daytime television and staring down women on the street, mouth agape. From the moment the duo appear on screen it’s clear that these aren’t the two plumbers you know and love. Luigi is missing the moustache, and they aren’t even brothers for Christ’s sake! Luigi’s some kind of orphan Mario found on the street and raised. This is more like Super Mario Acquaintances.
Girls are pretty.
When Luigi meets Daisy (Samantha Mathis), he’s instantly head over heels, struck by cupid’s arrow, all that crap. They’re perfect for each other in their collective awkwardness. Soon after their fateful meeting though, Daisy is captured by two moronic goons from a parallel universe. In order to rescue her, Mario and Luigi must venture to the mushroom kingdom, a world where dinosaurs weren’t wiped out and have instead evolved into humanoid creatures that can speak English. Everyone in the mushroom kingdom is a descendant of a lizard, and hatches from an egg at birth. This does not make sense since lizards are reptiles with scales, and they don’t look like Dennis Hopper.
Hopper refused to leave his mud bath to shoot this scene.
Daisy turns out to be the princess of the kingdom, separated from her rightful throne at birth to protect her from the evil Koopa (Hopper). An orphan like Luigi, baby Daisy was dumped in front of a church with nothing but a small glowing rock. This rock ends up in Luigi’s possession before she’s kidnapped. It’s a piece of the meteorite that destroyed the dinosaurs; and acts as a key to the gateway between parallel universes. Mario and Luigi must quickly adapt to life in this bizarre world while they are pursued by countless villains who want possession of the meteorite piece in order to travel to the human world.
At least Yoshi is dinosaur shaped.
Koopa is the leader of the kingdom and is most desperately seeking the stone. By uniting the universes his aim is to take advantage of the other world’s untapped resources. He uses a de-evolving machine (guess what that does!) to create a mindless army of Goombas, enforcing his dictatorship over the world. His troops are too stupid to track Mario and Luigi down and instead dance with them. He is regularly frustrated with their idiocy, when he himself made them idiotic with his machines. Hey Koopa, you get what you pay for.
Not even close.
This is such a far cry from the games. King Koopa should be called Bowser, and he shouldn’t be a lizard OR a dinosaur. He’s a turtle. Everything just feels wrong.
Perhaps it’s unfair to judge this film based solely on how it compares to the themes and tone presented in the video game series featuring characters with the same names. Does the movie work on its own, without any of the references? Nope! It’s too much of a jumble of odd choices. It’s hard to tell what the target demographic is. You have this bleak world and some dark themes juxtaposed with slapstick gags. It’s like the movie can’t decide if it’s for kids or adults. It’s often difficult to keep track of who is working for who throughout the narrative. Characters Luigi and Mario encounter are constantly changing allegiances.
The premise and concepts presented by the movie are just beyond rationality. Daisy’s long-lost father, the king, was de-evolved into some kind of deus ex machina mushroom. This revolting growth has spread all over the city, and conveniently saves the day for Mario and Luigi a little too often.
Any movie that uses the line ‘Trust the fungus’ more than once is a guaranteed failure.
With the exception of Dennis Hopper, the performances are average. Hoskins plays every scene with the same grouchy, angry New Yorker attitude, and that’s about as subtle as he gets. Leguizamo is okay considering the bizarre stuff he is given, especially with his courtship of Daisy.
Hopper though, is superb. He steals every scene he’s in, chewing scenery like nobody’s business. It looks like he had a lot of fun making the movie, basking in the goofiness of it all while playing the finger-twirling villain. His performance says, ‘I know this is stupid, but I’m still going to have a good time with it.’
I will give the film credit for one thing, at the very least. It never occurred to me how odd it is that Mario and Luigi are collectively referred to as ‘Mario’ Brothers. Why would Luigi go by Mario’s name? The movie reveals the two of them share the same last name: Mario. So their full names are Mario Mario and Luigi Mario; and collectively they are the Mario Brothers. Not hilarious by any means, but it’s the one joke that got a smirk out of me. Well, that, and the bob-omb wearing Reebok sneakers.
Hey! They actually got this one right.