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Super Mario Bros.

Review Written by: Estefan Ellison
Film: F

Directed by: Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton
Written by: Parker Bennett, Terry Runte and Ed Soloman
Produced by: Jake Eberts and Roland Joffe
Starring: Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Samantha Mathis, Dana Kaminski, Fiona Shaw, Fisher Stevens
Studio: Hollywood Pictures

"Wasted opportunity" is the phrase that instantly comes to mind, when one thinks of the immense failure of the Super Mario Bros. film adaptation of the classic video game. One of the most popular games on the Nintendo console, The Super Mario Brothers series is a fun way to pass a couple of hours. The story of the game is simple: a plumber must save the Princess from the evil overlord of her kingdom. Granted, it's not a particularly intellectual plot, but it's one that has been used very successfully many times before, from Robin Hood to Star Wars. With a talented screenwriter and some good direction, a Super Mario movie could have been a fun romp for children, teenagers and adults as well. Unfortunately, the film hoisted upon fans in 1993 was far from a good film. Super Mario Bros. is a gigantic piece of rubbish that is not deserving of the title given to it. The fact that it was produced by the man responsible for The Killing Fields and starred a talented group of award-winning actors makes this more embarrassing for not only them, but also us having to watch them make a fool of themselves.

The plot of Super Mario Bros. is such an incoherent mess, it's as if they took the three drafts of the screenwriters and just mixed them up into one big pile. Mario Mario (Bob Hoskins) and Luigi Mario (John Leguizamo) are two brothers (or are they father and son, as the film isn't particularly clear on that) who run a plumbing business, which isn't exactly the most successful. One day, Luigi meets Daisy (Samantha Mathis), an archaeologist and he falls in love with her. When she is kidnapped by the henchmen of the evil King Koopa (Dennis Hopper), Mario and Luigi go off to save her. They land in a mysterious big city hidden underneath New York City, populated by dinosaurs that have evolved into human beings. Soon, they find out that Koopa wants the rock around Daisy's neck so that he can go up to the surface and rule over the Big Apple. Now, it's up to the Super Mario Brothers to save the day.

To start off, the biggest problem with Super Mario Bros. is the fact it is absolutely nothing like the video game. The plot of the game, while simplistic, still works. The story that the film brings forth throws everything away and substitutes it for the ridiculous mess described in the previous paragraph. In fact, the only things that the film has in common with the game are the character names and the title. An adaptation does not necessarily have to be faithful to the source material, but taking away what made the original story work will certainly make the final version smell like feces, for both fans and general filmgoers. The screenplay is filled with jokes that aren't funny, action scenes that are just boring and characters with minimal character development. When a 16-bit video game excels better in all of the above listed aspects, there is definitely something wrong with the film version.

The film also fails on a visual level. Super Mario Bros. is a dark film that while marketed for children, it definitely does not feel like it was intended for them. The sets are particularly disappointed, seeing as they could have saved the film. A Manhattan version of the Mushroom Kingdom sounds like a promising idea, but the filmmakers once again ruin the opportunity to bring something good to the proceedings. Super Mario Bros. looks as if they stole the set from Blade Runner and sneezed all over it. It's enough that they practically copy the style, but they essentially rip out what made that film look sleek. If Rick Deckard showed up in that city, he would have had a heart attack at what the set designers had done. The special effects also fall into the category of "poor." What makes that aspect of the film really bad is that despite being a Hollywood film on a big budget, the effects look like those of B-movies from the 1960's.

Finally, the final aspect of Super Mario Bros. that could have saved it also fails. Bob Hoskins puts on the same accent he did for his character in Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Unfortunately, the superb work he brought to the screen in that film doesn't surface here. He just looks bored, wanting to leave the set immediately so he can go to the bank and cash his paycheque. I think I even saw one scene where he breaks character and glances at his watch. John Leguizamo doesn't fare much better as he's given the film's most banal and uninteresting character as well as dialogue. Through most of the film, he's just staring off into space. The same goes for Samantha Mathis, who is just dull. The actor in the film I feel the most sorry for is Dennis Hopper, though. Not only is the "comedic" material he is provided with not that funny, he also hams it to the max in his performance. He puts on different voices from a Baltimore accent to a Donald Trump impression and all seem to fail badly. You haven't seen the Easy Rider star until you watch him gleefully say "Monkey!" like a five year old. Or better yet, don't!

Roger Ebert has taken on some recent controversy for publicly stating that video games are not art. This isn't a discussion I want to get into the middle of right now, but comparing the joys of pressing those colourful buttons to the horrific experience of watching this film, I have to side with the game enthusiasts on this one.

Dennis Hopper successfully ruins his career in Super Mario Bros.
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