By Dan MK
(Screencaps and captions by Tom Kapr)
Once upon a time, there were two Italian plumbers who somehow got magically transported to another world, where they had to fight against the evil King Koopa in order to save the Princess and restore order to the Mushroom Kingdom.
Those of us who grew up as Nintendo addicts know the story well. We spent hours playing and replaying the video game (and all of its sequels) until it was in our bloodstream. When they finally came out with a Mario Bros. movie, any child in America could have guessed what the plot of the movie would be, which goes something like this:
(Warning: Here be spoilers!)
Mario and Luigi (that’s Mario Mario and Luigi Mario) are trying to help the Princess out with some plumbing issues (don’t ask) when she gets kidnapped by the Koopa cousins — all two of them. The Marios follow her through a mysterious portal which leads them to a parallel dimension, created by the meteor which struck the earth millions of years ago, wiping out the dinosaurs — or so we thought. In actuality (i.e., fiction), dinosaurs continued to exist in this parallel dimension, evolving into humanish things in much the same way that apes evolved into humanish things in our dimension (i.e., New Yorkers).
Mario and Luigi make their way through the city of Dinohattan (get it? GET IT?), fighting off Goombas (i.e., “de-evolved” humanish descendants of dinosaurs) and other things that are kind of like Goombas, but their heads are different, and that difference is never explained (Koopas?).
They befriend a knowledgeable (and musical) man-creature named Toad, who is promptly arrested and turned into a Goomba.
The Marios are arrested too, after which they meet up with Dennis Hopper, who pokes Luigi in the eyes and hisses. They then break out of prison on a zip-line, hijack a police car, make a wrong turn, and wind up in the desert. Fortunately, the fungus saves them, but Mario doesn’t trust it.
With the help of the newly reformed, “intelligent” Koopa cousins, Mario and Luigi return to the city and break into a dance club in flamboyant clothing. You see, in order to save the Princess, Mario has to romance an obese woman in a spiky dress, so that he can snatch the rock she is wearing around her neck which she had stolen from them earlier after they were mugged by an old lady. Mario tries to grab the rock with his mouth, but ultimately realizes he can still use his hands.
Mario gets the rock, but then he and Luigi instantly lose it. King Koopa’s wife (girlfriend? mistress? cousin?) takes it, and celebrates by drinking a glass of earthworm. Mario and Luigi, having gone through all this trouble, decide they don’t need the rock after all, and jump through the roof with crates on their heads. They sneak into King Koopa’s castle by pretending to be garbage. Then they mess with the plumbing and put on two uniforms that they just happen to find in a locker. (Wow! Those uniforms are just like in the video game!)
After this, Mario finally eats a flower and spits out a freakin’ fireball — eh, wishful thinking. Actually, Mario and Luigi get on an elevator and hide behind Goombas. They make the Goombas dance. It turns out Goombas love to dance (contrary to popular rumors that Goombas only love to walk off cliffs). Oh, and Mario almost falls down a pit, and is saved at the last minute. Luigi dangles on a hook, and Mario still doesn’t trust the fungus. (Unbelievable!)
Meanwhile, the Princess meets Yoshi. King Koopa enters her chambers and tries to seduce her with his long tongue (something only Dennis Hopper could pull off?). She is understandably bothered by this, but the fact of the matter is that she was born out of an egg, and her father is a pile of fungus (played by Lance Henriksen). She rejects King Koopa, and he scares Yoshi and leaves (that meanie). Shortly thereafter, Koopa’s girlfriend enters the room and befriends the Princess before trying to stick a knife in her throat. Yoshi protects the Princess by trying to eat the girlfriend. The Princess flees, and Yoshi gets freakin’ stabbed, to the delight of all the young children in the audience. And no, he doesn’t poop out any eggs.
After Yoshi gets stabbed, Goomba-Toad gets set on fire and screams. Princess puts out the fire (she finds an extinguisher!) but then runs away. The two useless Koopa Cousin characters appear just long enough to introduce the Princess to the fungus and then scram (they won’t be seen again until after the credits). Meanwhile, Luigi and Mario find the Princess. You see, they relied on their wits and made the Goombas dance — JUST LIKE IN THE VIDEO GAME!!!
After meeting up with the Princess and her father (who is in no condition to be having company), Mario runs off to save a roomful of Brooklynite women (“except for Angelica — she’s from Queens, but she’s alright”) who have been kidnapped by King Koopa. One of them is Mario’s girlfriend (mistress? cousin?) . As soon as Mario leaves, Princess and Luigi get captured by the evil King Dennis Hopper, who wants his pizza, for goodness’ sake! On the other hand, Mario does considerably better by escaping with all the women on a mattress. They are being pursued by Goombas (who are on their own mattress, of course), but it’s okay because Mario sticks a wrench in the ground. He’s a plumber, you see?
Mario’s mattress turns out to be a magical mattress because instead of simply falling out of the pipe, it glides slowly across a substantial portion of the Dinohattan set and disables King Koopa and his Goombas. Everyone celebrates, completely forgetting that King Koopa is still holding a gun, and still very conscious.
Koopa points a gun at the Mario Bros., so they throw — correction: they shoot — their shoes at him and knock him down again, this time over a railing and into a bucket. I’d like to point out that, during the course of the film, we actually see quite a few people fall over this railing. Not many railings; this railing. It’s pretty ridiculous.
Things get more intense at this point. People run. Luigi brings all of the women, including the Princess, back to the portal, where King Koopa’s girlfriend accidentally kills herself by sticking a small rock into a big one. Luigi sends all the Brooklynite girls back through the portal except for the Princess.
Meanwhile, Mario and King Koopa duke it out in the city. Their fight begins in the bucket, continues through a crowded street, and ends with King Koopa holding a gun to Mario. Mario sets off a Bob-omb (yay!), but it falls through the ground (what!?). Meanwhile, the small-rock-in-the-big-rock situation causes the two parallel dimensions to merge, and Mario, King Koopa, and a small handful of Goombas are transported to Manhattan (for some reason the rest of Dinohattan wasn’t invited).
In our world, King Koopa promptly turns a sleazy man into a sleazy chimpanzee, and all of the many civilian-bystanders think it’s absolutely adorable.
Koopa points the gun at Mario and says the now infamous line:
King Koopa: “And now, I’m gonna make a monkey outta you, plumber!”
Just when all seems lost, Mario trusts the fungus (finally!!!).
Luigi uses his quasi-plumbing skills to remove the small rock from the big rock, returning Mario, Koopa, and the Goombas to Dinohattan. Then he and Princess Daisy hurry back to catch the end of the Mario-Koopa fight. The Goombas dance again. The fat woman gives Luigi more shoes. Koopa screams. Finally, to the deep satisfaction of all the hardcore fans of the video games, the Mario Bros. defeat the evil King Koopa with… um… guns.
After an emotional farewell, Mario and Luigi return to their world, while the Princess stays behind to… well, I suppose to take her rightful place on the throne of Dinohattan. Most of her dimension is a desert, so this seems to be a bleak sort of existence. Nevertheless, she wants to get to know her dad, who “loves those plumbers.”
I would just like to point out that once the Marios leave, the Princess’s remaining two friends are both sorely disappointing versions of their video game characters, and both of them will spend weeks recovering from the horrendous injuries they suffered because of her. Her reign as the Princess is off to a very rocky start.
Three weeks later, Mario and Luigi are in their apartment, when who should appear but PRINCESS DAISY RAMBO TOADSTOOL MCCLANE, ready to mutilate some more Koopa scum!!! Unfortunately for our heroes, however, the obvious sequel setup is in vain. After all, you can’t take a beloved story about two plumbers and their adventures in the Mushroom Kingdom, where they use items like fire flowers, mushrooms, and stars, and turn it into a stupid story about two plumbers and their adventures in the reptile dimension, where they use items like guns, boots, and mattresses. It’s just not the same.
It should go without saying that this is quite possibly one of the weirdest movies ever made. From what I understand, making the movie was just as painful an experience as trying to watch it. I have heard that Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo could only make it through the production with the help of heavy drinking. As a result, one necessarily expects for there to be a number of elements in the film that simply defy comprehension.
And yet there are a few scenes that really hurt my brain. When the Marios are arrested and taken to a police station, there is a woman who keeps rubbing one officer’s shoulder with her foot. It is not clear who the woman is, why she is so much higher than the cop, or why this character even exists in the movie.
Later, when the Marios are taken to a “devo chamber,” an enormous pile of nasty-looking poop suddenly appears all over the floor just moments after Toad is turned into a Goomba. It is of course an error that the editor made — at least, I assume that in the script there was some explanation for why a clean floor would suddenly be covered in feces. But that’s what bugs me so much. What possible explanation could there possibly have been that would not have seriously altered the tone of the movie? Or, would it really have altered the tone all that much?
My personal favorite visual treat is at the end when Dennis Hopper shoots a man with a “devo gun” in order to turn him into a monkey, and then continues to act as if the gun is still shooting something, despite the fact that NOTHING IS HAPPENING.
Super Mario Bros. set a standard for all films based on video games, in that it was the first one ever made. A low standard is still a standard, after all. (Author’s note: My brother informs me that there was ONE Japanese movie based on a video game before this one. My brother is the type of person that film critics like to refer to as a “nerd.”)
If there is anything admirable about this movie, it is the way in which the filmmakers so blatantly ignore almost everything in their source material, boldly replacing it with an astoundingly stupid storyline, and asking — even expecting — critics and audiences to seriously entertain the notion that they’ve created a movie which deserves to be associated with the Mario Bros. Those elements of the original storyline which somehow survived this process and made it into the final film (such as Toad, Yoshi, and even King Koopa) seem like they would be more at home in a film by Terry Gilliam or even Paul Verhoeven — except, of course, for the title characters themselves, who clearly belong to a much more lighthearted kind of family film.
The result of all this is a wildly uneven film which takes you violently from one end of the spectrum, featuring the goofy slapstick of the Koopa cousins and the corny optimism of Luigi, all the way to the other end, where Yoshi must suffer a horrific stab wound while the Princess screams in terror.
And that is the genius of creating such an awesomely bad 90s movie based on… ah crap, the Goombas are dancing again. I gotta go.
(Enjoying the Rant Pad? There’s more! Visit our podcast home page at BuriedCinema.com. Then you can also Like us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter, Friend us on Flickchart, and Subscribe to us on YouTube!)