Super Mario Bros the movie is a strange thing; On the one hand its an utter mess that bears little relation to its source material and really doesn’t make much sense. On the other it’s a basically enjoyable romp packed with nostalgia for me as a player of the Mario Bros games and someone who grew up in the late 80s and 1990s – and it’s the first movie I remember seeing in Guernsey’s (then quite exciting) new cinema… don’t worry it’s not the first film I saw in the cinema.
The movie follows the titular, plumbing, brothers as they head into a parallel New York where dinosaurs haven’t died out and have evolved into surprisingly human looking creatures ruled over by Dennis Hopper’s President (not King) Koopa – although he is called King in the credits.
Koopa is planning on taking over the world by merging the two New Yorks with the unwilling help of Princess Daisy and her meteorite necklace, and well his plot ends there really.
Certainly the best thing about the movie is the production design, and, while it bears very little relation to the video game its supposedly based on it does look good – in a sub-Blade Runner, mid-90s sci-fi kind of way. This gives the whole thing a kind of dark, decaying tone that references Ridley Scott’s aforementioned sci-fi classic as well as the likes of Tim Burton’s Batman (production designer David L. Snyder had worked on Blade Runner and on PeeWee’s Big Adventure, with Tim Burton).
Where this production design falls down is that it is totally at odds with the family friendly adventure romp tone of much of the plot as the Mario Brothers race about the repetitive sets to a quirky soundtrack of cartoon-esque original music and ironically selected songs while a selection of sometimes fitting, but mostly out-of-place, vaguely reptilian creature effects.
The performances in the film are equally varied from Dennis Hopper seemingly have a great time hamming it up as Koopa (at least while the camera was rolling), albeit again with little relevance to the source character to Bob Hoskins apparently not even having a clue that the movie was based on a video game and very much going through the motions (but being Hoskins and incredibly talented, pulling it off anyway).
John Leguizamo comes across as the most invested lead, bringing a sense of fun where he can and, as much as possible, builds a reasonable relationship with Samantha Mathis’ Princess Daisy and being generally charismatic and quite funny.
Another high point is Yoshi, a fully animatronic dinosaur who actually has more personality, and elicits more sympathy at one point, than a lot of the rest of the movie.
Coming away from Super Mario Bros I can only think that, if it had no relation to the video game, it could have been a slightly brainless but enjoyably family adventure romp – albeit with an odd mish-mash of design styles. What it ends up as being though is simply a mess that has something of the feel of if Troma had a budget and made something that was actually family friendly, though I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a good time on that first cinema visit and, I have certainly enjoyed films less than I did watching this tonight.
The version I watched tonight was the new Blu-ray edition and included is a 55 minute, newly made, documentary that sheds a lot of light onto the production troubles with interviews with most of the major players both on and of screen (for obvious reasons less of Hopper and Hopkins) and is a fascinating insight into how a film can go wrong, really from the beginning of production right up until now.