The first few scenes of Super Mario Bros. introduce us to our characters, which you’ll know from the video games of the same title. There’s Mario (Bob Hoskins), the older, more serious brother; Luigi (John Leguizamo), the younger, more jovial brother; “Princess” Daisy (Samantha Mathis), who will need to be rescued; and King Koopa (Dennis Hopper), the dictator in a parallel universe in which dinosaurs evolved into human-like creatures. All four characters look like normal humans for the vast majority of their screen time.
Soon enough, Daisy gets captured, while Mario and Luigi find themselves transported to this different dimension, figuring that once they are there, rescuing her might be a good plan. They do very little to make themselves seem like the game characters from which they’re inspired, which might be for the best when you consider just how little of a character could use as a basis. Anyway, Hoskins and Leguizamo embody characters with little personality anyway, and just happen to share a name and (sometimes) attire with the video game characters.
They essentially go through action scene after action scene in an attempt to rescue the princess. At least the spirit of the games has been retained here. If you somehow haven’t played a Mario game before, the gist of it is this: You run from left to right, jump on any enemy in your way, and collect as many coins as possible. It gets a tad more complicated than that, obviously, but that’s as concise as summary as I can give. You’re better off just going to play one of the games than trying to sit through this movie.
There is only a little plot here. There’s an attempt at establishing the back story of each universe, how the King Koopa’s domain was created, and so on, but it doesn’t really matter. Once Mario and Luigi are there, all bets are off. Goombas do exist here, you’ll be happy to know, although they might upset you because of how they look. They’re “de-evolved” humans (so that they lose their intelligence and reasoning, we’re told), with small heads and huge bodies, and a clueless smile glued to their faces. I thought they were cute, personally.
King Koopa looks nothing like his in-game counterpart, although putting Bowser into live action and having him retain his looks would probably not fare too well. I was fine with the character’s appearance, and even the whole “dinosaurs evolved into humans” thing. What I wasn’t happy about was Hopper’s portrayal of the character. King Koopa needed to be played over-the-top, but in the film, he’s as straight as an arrow for the majority of his time on-screen. It’s only right near the end that the silliness of the character comes through, and by that point, it was too late.
Bob Hoskins is a good actor, but he didn’t seem to care a whole lot about this project. I don’t really blame him, but it would have been nice to see him make an effort. Leguizamo does that, but he’s so bad here that you would be commended for laughing at him. Being a “nice guy” does not compensate for a complete lack of depth, intensity, or screen presence. He could be the sole focus on-screen and we would be distracted by the background — even if we can’t see the background.
It’s just not a whole lot of fun when you get right down to it. In reality, it doesn’t matter whether or not the characters look, sound or act like their video game counterparts; it only matters that this silly movie is enjoyable. It’s way more often uncomfortable than it is entertaining. There are times when it’s weird enough to almost be noteworthy, but for most of the time it plays, I felt bored and like I was wasting my time.
I didn’t even dislike the villain. He didn’t seem to be that bad of a person. The worst thing we see him do is turn people into Goombas, but that seems to be a pleasant existence. You’re happy, you have few thoughts, and you’re gigantic, meaning nobody would want to mess with you. King Koopa is mentioned to be an awful person — or, “thing,” if you prefer — but we never see him doing anything terribly villainous. The heroes never seem to be in any danger, meaning there’s no suspense to the action, and he doesn’t seem like he wants to ruin lives.
The tragic part is that the scenes taking place in the real world prior to the transportation to the parallel one are actually better than the ones that follow them. These early moments play out like a terrible rom-com, but at least I could (1) follow them and (2) get some sort of sick enjoyment out of how bad they were. Apart from one or two laughable points later on, it’s not even a so-bad-it’s-good film. It’s just bad.
Super Mario Bros. is an awful movie that, unfortunately, isn’t any fun. Bad movies are often so terrible that they’re enjoyable, but that isn’t the case here. It could have been possible if it wasn’t taking everything so seriously, but because it does, the movie is dull and incredibly dull. It has some good actors who put in no effort, a nonsensical story, and bears only vague similarities to the video game from which it takes its inspirations. It’s just awful, and you have no reason whatsoever to subject yourself to it.