Super Mario Bros. is a movie without wit and purpose. Although I’d like to believe differently, I’m lead to believe the filmmakers and studio-heads who greenlit the project never once played any of the games, much less knew what a Nintendo Entertainment System was, save for it might’ve been something one of their children wanted for Christmas once year. Maybe. They might’ve been to busy bungling the film adaption of the console’s flagship series to notice.
I will not deny that the film — helmed by partners Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel — has some artistic vision. The kind of vision only Stevie Wonder could appreciate. Rather than emulating the look of the colorful, vibrant video game on which it’s based, Super Mario Bros. adopts the look of a dystopian hellscape, with dark set-pieces and absurdly literal adaptations, such as cartoon mushrooms substituted for oozing fungi. Characters, with the exception of Bob Hoskins’ Mario, barely look like who they’re supposed to represent from their video game counterparts, and entire project comes across like a fever-dream. Or, more accurately, a fever nightmare.
The film’s prologue tells us that after the impact of a meteorite that crashed into planet Earth some-65 million years ago, the universe was divided into two parallel dimensions. The dinosaurs went into the new dimension, eventually evolving into a race of humanoids, who now make up a city known as “Dinohattan.”
Cut to present day Brooklyn and Italian-American brothers, Mario (Hoskins) and Luigi (John Leguizamo), are simply trying to carve out a living with their ragtag plumbing company. Mario and Luigi run the risk of being driven out of business by a rival construction company, own by a mobster (Gianni Russo). Early on, Luigi meets and falls for Daisy (Samantha Mathis), an archaeology students who is excavating for dinosaur bones underneath the Brooklyn Bridge.
When the rival plumbing company is found vandalizing water pipes, one thing leads to another, and Mario, Luigi, and Daisy are all sucked into the alternate universe of Dinohattan. Daisy gets kidnapped by henchmen working for King Koopa (Dennis Hopper), for the piece of meteorite she wears around her neck will allow for the Big Bad to merge both the Dino-world and the human-world into one.
The first problem is the crew behind Super Mario Bros. is taking material born to be animated and thrusting it into the real-world. A serviceable movie might’ve emerged if Morton and Jankel went the Who Framed Roger Rabbit route and dropped Mario and Luigi into Manhattan as animated creations themselves. It is difficult to take a side-scrolling video game and squeeze a 100-minute screenplay out of it, but having the film animated would’ve at least made Mario, Luigi, King Koopa (later Bowser), and Toad (inexplicably played by Mojo Nixon with no effort put in at all by the concept design team) look at least vaguely similar to their likenesses.
Even if the film had to be live-action, it could’ve looked a lot brighter and more realized than this. Super Mario Bros.‘ visuals are grotesque and drab; a stark contrast to the vibrant video game colors.
Super Mario Bros. is what happens when those tasked with making an adaptation completely lack a vision or a sense, much less a sense of understanding about what makes the video game series so popular. The Mario video games are easy to pick up and play, for one, they have an assortment of colorful characters with big personalities, and Mario and Luigi have your typically rambunctious brotherly companionship. Hoskins and Leguizamo are strong actors, but even at times they can’t hide their disgust with all that’s happening around them.
NOTE: Ostensibly due to the fact that everyone involved with the film has tried valiantly to disown it, Super Mario Bros. is not available to stream (let alone rent) on any service at this time.
Starring: Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Samantha Mathis, Fisher Stevens, Fiona Shaw, and Richard Edson. Directed by: Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel.
Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!