Wildly overproduced and derivative, “Super Mario Bros.” is 1993’s answer to “Howard the Duck.” Some brief kiddie business and eventual video rentals can’t justify its nearly $ 50 million negative cost.
The task of converting a non-narrative Nintendo videogame into a motion picture was too much for a trio of scripters, a pair of (married) directors and a couple of high-profile producers. What set them in motion was obviously the success of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movies, which “Mario” imitates when it’s not into “Star Wars” riffs or “Batman” pastiche.
Awkwardly constructed pic, featuring two prologues and two epilogues, starts with the premise of a parallel world to New York created 65 million years ago by a meteorite that also killed off the dinosaurs. A miscast (he’s not the only one) Dennis Hopper is the villain ruling the other world, intent upon retrieving a meteorite fragment and the young princess (Samantha Mathis) sent to our world with it.
If the princess reunites the fragment with the meteorite, she will fuse the two dimensions back together.
Mathis is kidnapped by Hopper’s bumbling assistants and pursued into his world by the Mario Bros., two Brooklyn plumbers beloved by Nintendo game fans over the past decade. If you’re over the age of 5 and can believe that Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo are brothers — let alone Italian — the rest of the film’s leaps of faith are child’s play.
After a fairly realistic opening reel, picture segues into Hopper’s world of oversize sets and mechanical slapstick. There are plenty of gags, but not one laugh in the whole farrago.
As stiffly directed by Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, “Mario” occasionally attempts to careen along like a videogame, with chases, fireballs and narrow escapes. But the action scenes are generally photographed in closeups and telephoto shots that prove unexciting.
While Hopper overacts and condescends to the comic strip material, Fiona Shaw as his Joanna Cassidy-esquepartner in evil is an impressive, larger-than-life villainess.
Down-to-earth Hoskins and Leguizamo vainly attempt to humanize their strictly functional central roles, while Mathis as Princess Daisy (that name passes for wit in this script) is an uninspiring heroine.
The technicians have done an OK job here, delivering decent morphing effects, a cute little dinosaur pet named Yoshi, quality sound effects (given impressive separation via Dolby Digital Stereo) and some striking sets.
There’s nothing original about “Mario,” and the absence of tension or an interesting narrative makes it tedious in the extreme.