In my defence: firstly, it was only £3 in HMV. Secondly… well, that’s about it really. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that Super Mario Bros. is a good film. I don’t want to lie to you like that. What it is is a bizarrely adventurous film: Blade Runner meets Cronenberg, all within the family friendly PG rating dictated by the source material, Nintendo’s Mario videogames.
Now, it would be unfair to deny that the film has anything going for it. For one thing, the cast is genuinely brilliant. Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo play Mario Mario and Luigi Mario respectively (yes, you read that right, the film decided that Mario is their surname), with Dennis Hopper giving a bizarre turn as the villainous King Koopa. Mario & Luigi are downtrodden Brooklyn plumbers who find themselves in an alternate reality where a human-like race evolved from lizards, rather than mammals. Then there’s some nonsense involving a princess, a meteorite, and interdimensional invasions, but you’ve got the important stuff now.
By far, the film’s strangest decision is to take the colourful Mushroom Kingdom of the games and replace it with a dystopian alternate version of New York that brings to mind nothing so much as the aforementioned Blade Runner. The design of this universe is fantastic, bringing as much grit as possible in a PG, along with that sense that there’s a fully realised world there. The Cronenbergian influence can be seen in the spread of a really unpleasant fungus through the world, together with characters in various states of devolution throughout the film. Once again, the body horror is at firmly PG levels, but the designers really manage to cram as much ickiness as they can into that rating.
Unfortunately, the brilliant design and cast are stuck in a film that just isn’t very good. Unsurprisingly, the script is the main problem. The plot is unnecessarily convoluted, and the film would really benefit from more simplicity. The setting, while remarkable, is nothing like any of the videogames. Of course, the Mario games would be impossible to faithfully adapt to the screen, but maybe that means you shouldn’t try. Finally, despite the best efforts of the talented cast, the dialogue is goofy and cheesy all the way through, with jokes falling flat all over the place and some pretty flimsy characterisation.
History has been unnecessarily cruel to Super Mario Bros. The film may be far from a classic, but it does have a definite charm to it, a strong cast, and a real darkness to the design ethos that rarely makes its way into family friendly fare these days. Though I still wouldn’t spend any more than £3 on it.
Dominic PrestonPin It