They should’ve got Danny DeVito to play Toad, but the problems don’t end there

Super Mario Bros Movie

Super Mario Bros. (1993)

I won’t waste your time giving you chapter and verse all about the Super Mario series. If you somehow don’t know what it’s all about, I can only offer my sympathies. You must have been an unfortunate child soldier, and maybe a film based on Call of Duty would be more your level. But if your youth was happier, then you’ll know all about the Mario jumpy-jumping, Goomba-stomping, coin-collecting palaver. And, assuming you’re not completely bereft of flair, you will recognise the classic theme tune at once.

It’s this 8-bit tune that kicks things off for this off-the-wall film adaptation of the Super Mario Bros series, before things take a swift Immelmann Turn and fly as far away from the source material as physically possible. Somewhere among all the coins and blocks and turtles, some madman producer decided they wanted more from the Mario story. They’d obviously been left distinctly unfulfilled by the usual routine: the evil Bowser relieves the Mushroom Kingdom of its princess, so affable plumber Mario has to go and retrieve her.

Nobody really knows why it falls to Mario, and sometimes his brother Luigi, but there you go. That’s what the Mario series is all about. And seemingly, such a plot desperately called for a two-hour, high-budget film adaptation, and husband-and-wife team Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel were the ones to bring it to life.

Obviously a few liberties were taken. No, that’s not quite accurate – liberties were taken, grappled with, powerbombed onto the canvas and made to tap out by way of Crippler Crossface. So much for Mario and Luigi being fraternal twins – Bob Hoskin’s brusque Mario is about twenty years older than John Leguizamo’s daydreaming Luigi. Their relationship can actually be fun at times, although the character writing is predictably mule.

You don’t have to look too hard to get an example of this. When you see Mario chasing down a tunnel in a hokey chase scene, yelling that he’s going to kill the enemies and break every bone in their bodies, you’re just left doing one of those laughs. You know, the ones where you close your eyes and shake your head a little. Hoskins was still in Eddie Valiant mode: a gruff, jaded man surrounded by all kinds of bonkers goings-on that make both him and his character look distinctly fed up. Most jarringly of all, Luigi, who’s played by a dreadfully miscast Leguizamo, doesn’t even have a moustache. I never thought I’d miss a ‘tash so much.

Unlike any Mario game you’ve ever played, or ever will play, the plot is about two separate dimensions – one where humans descended from apes, and another where we descended from dinosaurs. Serving as the link between the two worlds is Princess Daisy, played by Samantha Mathis, who ends up being half-dinosaur. Or something like that. You begin to find it difficult to keep up with the miasma of absurdity by the end.

I’ll say this for the film, the dinosaur effects are pretty well done for the time – so well done that the Jurassic Park producers came down, had a look and came away suitably impressed. Unfortunately this does mean that Yoshi’s had all of his personality and cuteness stripped away. He’s reduced to a wordless, animalistic raptor, although by the time you meet him you’ve already reconciled yourself with all these madcap occurrences so well that you don’t even question this.

You might still question Dennis Hopper being cast as a besuited King Koopa. The film culminates with Hoskins and Hopper, God rest the pair of them, staring each other down, almost open-mouthed in bewilderment at all this lunacy going on around them. I’m 95% certain that Mike Myers’ Dr. Evil character was heavily based off Hopper here – their inflexions and mannerisms are unbelievably similar.

You also get the distinct feeling that old Dennis is dangerously close to bursting out in laughter at it all any time he’s onscreen. That, or he was off his face all throughout production – either are equally plausible. Inebriation was a common theme during the production of the film in fact, with Leguizamo readily admitting that he and Hoskins used to get trollied off as much whiskey as they could find.

They needed this respite, especially when the husband-and-wife directing team came out with yet more domestic guff that slowed production down by another twelve weeks. I wonder who wore the dungarees in that relationship? There’s plenty of marriages in the world that barely survive a Christmas journey to the in-laws, and that’s only once a year. Can you imagine that type of embittered married couple making a Hollywood film? It’d end in tears before you could say “affair”.

Will you have to take a leaf from Bob and John’s book and get yourself three sheets to enjoy the Super Mario Bros film? Not quite. The premise is more than a little bit silly, we know. The actors were fed up, the directors were all over the place. Some of the editing is wonky, though not as much as you might think. The film is just a bizarre caper, not great, but definitely not dreadful. But where it fell down, of course, is that almost everything you see on screen is pretty much the last thing anyone would have expected from a Mario movie.

All throughout, I was hoping that we’d finally get to the Mario bit. We’d seen the characters, all wrong of course, but they were introduced to us. Every single moviegoer in 1993 wanted that alternate dimension to be the colourful Mushroom Kingdom or Donut Plains, or Vanilla Dome even. I could have accepted Subcon from Super Mario Bros 2.

God, I would have even accepted Birdo showing up and the whole picture segueing into an even more nightmarish version of RuPaul’s Drag Race, with elements of Rocky Horror. Richard O’Brien showing up, playing some excitement music on his harmonica and keeping crystals away from the Mario brothers. Anything to bring us back on subject.

I should imagine that not one of the 104 minutes are canon, but this film does make one pretty bold attempt to write a new part of Mario’s backstory. It’s almost like the film is clumsily wielding a magic marker all over the most beautiful piece of calligraphy you’ve ever seen. Well, it turns out that Mario’s full name is… Mario Mario. And his brother? Well, Luigi Mario obviously.

When it comes to official details like Mario’s surname, the all-important Zelda timeline, and where the hell the next F-Zero game is, Miyamoto-san and others like him just tend to give whatever’s the popular answer at that time to get the nerds off his back. But I’ve done some homework here, and I can tell you that the last official word on this is that his name is indeed Mario Mario. Is that wild or what?

Watching the Super Mario Bros movie back in the day left us scratching our heads and wondering why Mario and Luigi were going to Koopa-backed strip joints, or why Goombas and Koopa Troopas were shambling about in novelty oversized suits. Try the film, as long as you can get over the fact that you won’t see Bob Hoskins climb into a Tanooki suit. Well made it isn’t, but as a relic of the 90s, and as something nutball in its own right, the Super Mario Bros film is just about enjoyable.

12 June 2020

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