‘Joker’: A film that’s more frown than smile

1.5 out of 4 stars

Of all the crimes the Joker has committed since debuting in 1940, I find this to be his most egregious: the killer clown murdered more than three hours of my life.

The movie, starring Joaquin Phoenix as Gotham City’s biggest bad guy, runs a painful two hours, and the fact I drove 30 minutes to the theater to see what likely will be the year’s most disappointing film, makes the time I invested in this monstrosity even more miserable.

Expectations were high for “Joker.” It won the top award at the Venice Film Festival. But after watching it, you’ll wonder who were the judges? Phoenix’s parents? Or was it the Penguin? Or the Riddler?

Who cares. Director and co-writer Todd Phillips – the genius behind the “The Hangover” franchise – had a blank canvas and a “R” rating and created an eye sore.

Joker punishes the audience with an obnoxious laugh and dances like a drunk ballerina like it’s his job. After all, he’s a terrible clown, which is his profession, and he’s an even worse stand-up comic, which is what he aspires to be.

He’s really just pathetic. He gets beat up by kids, brings a gun to use as a “prop” during a performance at a children’s hospital and is a terrible son to a single mother (Frances Conroy) who desperately needs him. He’s a lost soul in Gotham City, where only the strong survive in a dreary, crime-ridden town in the 1980s.

Phoenix is no Heath Ledger and not even close to Jack Nicholson. But he’s better than Jared Leto, which doesn’t say much. Phoenix, who has been nominated for Oscars, simply isn’t good enough to carry one this one-clown show – and Phillips storyline isn’t strong enough to keep the audience engaged.

The problem is while the Joker is a murderer who carries out some very gruesome killings that are permitted in an R-rated movie, he can’t get the audience to hate him. You’ll feel sorry for him when you learn his back story, but you won’t hate him.

Thanos, who killed millions, is easy to hate, and so is Lex Luthor, Red Skull, Magneto and Loki.

But not this Joker. He can’t attract a girlfriend so he stalks his single-mom neighbor (Zazie Beetz). He never makes an effort to better himself.

The movie’s lone bright spot is Robert De Niro, who plays Murray Franklin, a comic who hosts a late-night show that Fleck adores. Franklin is everything Fleck isn’t – respected, admired and genuinely funny.

Joker’s back story introduces us to Alfred the Butler and a young Bruce Wayne, but their interactions with Fleck are so short their places in the film feels forced.

Joker – otherwise known as Arthur Fleck – is basically a loser who knows he’s a loser, which is also a word that can be used to describe this film.