NEW YORK (OSV News) — No one can accuse the folks behind the animated origin story “The Super Mario Bros. Movie” (Universal) of false advertising. To borrow a British phrase, the film does just what it says on the tin.
That may be good news for devotees of the landmark video games in which the siblings of the title are featured. For those in search of stand-alone cinematic value, however, co-directors Aaron Horvath and Michael Jelenic’s adaptation comes up short.
As scripted by Matthew Fogel, the instantly forgettable proceedings are at least free of any genuinely objectionable elements. Yet the chases and showdowns to which most of the brief running time is devoted might frighten little ones. So, too, might the jeopardy in which the story’s sympathetic characters frequently stand.
Some of the earliest sequences of the adventure are easily its best. In real-world Brooklyn, brothers Mario (voice of Chris Pratt) and Luigi (voice of Charlie Day) enjoy a degree of congenial mutual attachment that insulates them from the bleak prospects of the plumbing business they’ve recently started.
Having introduced us to the duo’s colorful, if not always supportive, larger family — Charles Martinet, who voiced both Mario and Luigi in the franchise’s original format, plays their less-than-nurturing dad, Guiseppe — Fogel whisks us off to an alternate universe where things deteriorate rapidly from the audience’s point of view.
While being magically and unwillingly transported thither, Mario and Luigi become separated. Mario lands in the upbeat Mushroom Kingdom, ruled over by fetching Princess Peach (voice of Anya Taylor-Joy). Luigi, however, ends up in the dark domain of Bowser (voice of Jack Black), an evil turtle who is not only scheming to conquer Peach’s territory but to marry her as well.
True to form, Mario loyally sets out to rescue Luigi.
Along with showcasing their solidarity, the screenplay fleetingly highlights the value of persistence and teamwork. Yet, the initial touches of humor and clever use of music aside, what transpires on screen amounts to little more than frantic action for its own sake and a dutiful run-through of the games’ environments and activities.
A previous screen version, 1993’s “Super Mario Bros.,” was not a box-office or critical favorite. This second bite of the apple seems unlikely to fare much better — at least with viewers who are either discerning or demanding.
The film contains much stylized violence, including explosions and brawls, and characters in peril. The OSV News classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association rating is PG — parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
John Mulderig is media reviewer for OSV News. Follow him on Twitter @JohnMulderig1.