`Super Mario Bros.' Movie Seems Like A Game

# # 1/2 "Super Mario Bros.," with Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Fiona Shaw and Samantha Mathis. Directed by Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel, from a screenplay by Parker Bennett, Terry Runt and Ed Solomon. Alderwood, Lewis & Clark, Crossroads, Valley 6, Kent 6, Aurora, Everett 9, Totem Lake, Bay, Broadway market, Gateway, Puget Park. "PG" - Parental guidance suggested, due to moderate violence. ------------------------------------------------------------------- Because the "Super Mario Bros." are known around the world as the best-selling video game, it only follows that this lavish movie version should resemble its video origins.

Designed as a kind of "prequel" to the game, it's a colossal Rube Goldberg device that has been grafted onto a succession of hyperactive chases.

The heroes, of course, are Mario Mario (Bob Hoskins) and his brother Luigi (John Leguizamo), a pair of Brooklyn plumbers who stumble upon the gateway to another dimension, created 65 million years ago when a giant meteor impact sent the dinosaur epoch into an alternative track of evolution.

The legacy of this cataclysm is Koopa City, a bizarre urban pit (a magnificent set built inside a gigantic abandoned cement factory) controlled by the Koopa King (Dennis Hopper), a ruthless dictator, descended from Tyrannosaurus rex, who needs a special piece of the ancient meteor to merge the separate dimensions and assume total domination.

As it happens, Luigi's girlfriend Daisy (Samantha Mathis) possesses the meteor chunk on a special pendant, and because she has unique family ties to the alternate world, the Koopa King kidnaps her to exploit her special powers. So begins the frantic rescue effort by the tireless Mario Bros.

It's an almost plotless affair, but there is plenty of visual imagination to compensate for the repetitious escapes and booby-traps. Boasting sets, creatures and goofy props that equal or exceed anything in the "Batman" movies, "Super Mario Bros." goes one step further with imaginative, digitally generated special effects that are astounding even in the absence of an awe-inspiring story.

There's also a baby Tyrannosaurus that is easily the most impressive mechanical creature yet to appear in a movie (until, in all likelihood, "Jurassic Park").

The enthusiastic cast also works overtime, creating comedic momentum despite the thinness of the script, and capitalizing on the film's lavish production values with over-the-top performances. Hopper's maniacal villainy is harmlessly amusing, and Fiona Shaw brings inspired lunacy (and outrageous costumes) to her role as Koopa's traitorous second-in-command.

Unfortunately, the highlights are sporadic. British co-directors Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel created the similarly ambitious "Max Headroom" TV series, but they lack the visionary gifts of Terry Gilliam, and so "Super Mario Bros." remains more of a game than the awesome movie it's trying to be. Can anyone say that's surprising?