In Pop Punishment, Louis Peitzman endures the most derided genre films, television, and literature, all for your sadistic pleasure.

It's been called the worst video game movie of all time, but I don't think Super Mario Bros. is any more deplorable than Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. OK, I guess that's not saying much. The ‘90s were a glorious time for cracktastic film adaptations of video games that never really needed to be movies in the first place. But while Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter are pretty standard bad action flicks, Super Mario Bros. is its own brand of crazy. It's not good — it's just weird in all the right ways.


The absurdity of the cast is reason alone to admire the movie: Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as Mario and Luigi are inspired choices. Dennis Hopper as King Koopa is — well, something that happened. I don't know what persuaded an actor of Hoskins' caliber to take on such a ridiculous project, one he later denounced, but it's probably the same thing that attracted fellow Brit Fiona Shaw. Hoskins as Mario really does make sense, though, even if his gruff tone is a notable shift from video game Mario's castrato voice. And Leguizamo has the elasticity necessary to play Luigi, who is really just a stretched-out version of Mario. He's Colombian, which isn't the same as Italian, but Super Mario Bros. isn't about accuracy.

One of the most fascinating things about the film is how varied the reactions were. I mean, most critics agreed the movie was terrible, but fans were particularly incensed by how far Super Mario Bros. drifted from its source material. Strangely, Mario's creator Shigeru Miyamoto had the opposite opinion: "The movie may have tried to get a little too close to what the Mario Bros. video games were. And in that sense, it became a movie that was about a video game, rather than being an entertaining movie in and of itself." So which is it-too Mario or not Mario enough? If you think about it, Super Mario Bros. the film has very little to do with the game: aside from the character names and some crap about dinosaurs, the movie has a different story, tone, and aesthetic. But as far as I'm concerned, that's what makes it fun.

Who wants to watch a movie about Mario jumping on goombas in pursuit of Bowser, anyway? I love Super Mario Bros.' bizarre conceit — when the big meteor struck 65 million years ago, it divided the Earth into two dimensions. On the other side (the one we don't live in), dinosaurs survived and evolved into reptilian humans. The result is King Koopa and his forked tongue. ("You know what they say about little girls. They say they never forget the first time they're kissed by a lizard." Shudder.) Princess Daisy is hatched from an egg. Adorable non-evolved dino Yoshi is a palace slave. Does any of this follow the game's logic? No. But Toad is a street musician who gets de-evolved into a tiny-headed humanoid dinosaur. Way more fun than a bitty mushroom dude, right?

Was anyone all that attached to Mario's story in the first place? I question how much thought was put into it, especially given that — as the film points out — Mario's full name must be Mario Mario. I think the movie was wise to take the pipe down to pseudo-steampunk absurdity, but given the critical response and box office returns, I might be alone here. While hardcore Mario fans and Shigeru Miyamoto butt heads about what made Super Mario Bros. suck so hard, I take comfort in knowing I can appreciate this movie for what it is-that is, sci-fi nonsense with dinosaurs. And it's worlds better than Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, which makes Uwe Boll's House of the Dead look like high art.


Super Mario Bros. is probably always going to be one of those movies I defend out of blind love and nostalgic obligation. Watching it again, I was struck by its faults, namely the fact that it's too long. (This is a 70-minute movie stretched out to 100 minutes.) But you can get past the filler if you let yourself get distracted by the sheer ‘90s-ness of it all. Getting stupid stoned also works. Give in to the cheese, and trust the fungus.

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