Sunday, 23 March 2014

Super Mario Bros. (1993)

Mario Mario (Bob Hoskins) and Luigi Mario (John Leguizamo) are a pair of plumbers who don't seem to be having much luck lately. After losing out on another job to a competitor they end up stopping when their van temporarily breaks down. And that's when Luigi meets Daisy (Samantha Mathis), a young woman working on an archaeological dig. Move forward a couple of scenes and, for reasons I won't go into right now, Daisy has been whisked away into an alternative dimension, and Luigi and Mario set out to rescue her in a strange land overruled by the harsh, power-hungry King Koopa (Dennis Hopper).

It's hard to pin down just where Super Mario Bros. went so wrong in the transition from videogame to big screen outing, but the main thing to point out, surely, is that the film does absolutely nothing to please fans of the game. Taken just as a film, it's an interesting failure. Taken as a film version of the Nintendo property, it's just a failure.

Leguizamo is the better of the central pairing, having some fun as the open-minded and optimistic Luigi, while Hoskins does okay, wobbly accent aside. He at least looks the part. Mathis is there to be put in peril, and she does that. Thankfully, Hopper livens up every scene that he's in. Film fans know that Hopper can be a great villain, and this is a family-friendly baddie that he portrays with gusto. Fisher Stevens and Richard Edson both provide some amusement as a couple of idiotic goons, and Fiona Shaw is just as good as she always is in the role of Lena, the woman by the side of Koopa who also has plans of her own.

Perhaps it's because this was the first major theatrically released movie based on a videogame, but it's hard to think of what writers Parker Bennett, Terry Runte and Ed Solomon were thinking when they cobbled this script together. Yes, there are videogame elements incorporated into the movie, but they're not prominent enough and at no time does this film actually feel like Super Mario Bros. It may have been difficult, admittedly, but the groundwork for more creativity was easily laid out when the premise involved throwing the characters into another dimension.

Directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel don't help. Super Mario Bros. may well be one of the drabbest, ugliest "big" movies to ever see the inside of cinemas. The design, the colour scheme, even the shot choices, almost every decision just feels wrong. It's all so wrong that it's hard to believe that Morton and Jankel weren't on some kind of mission to sabotage their own movie.

But that cast, thank goodness for that cast. There IS fun to be had here. Yes, you have to sit through a lot of rubbish to get to the good bits, but I disagree with anyone saying that this movie is entirely worthless. It's bad, no arguing with that, but it's not unwatchable. If only I'd been writing this blog back in 1993 perhaps I could have allowed them to quote me on the posters: "Bad, but not unwatchable".


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