When paying tribute doesn’t sufficiently express your love for a book, a movie, or a narrative style, you must resort to emulating it in the spirit of campy fun—which is exactly what writer-director Johnny K. Wu does in his DC Comics parody “A Joker’s Card.” Running just twenty minutes long, Wu’s film immediately commences with action. Jonathan Napier (Kyle Znamenak), son of the Joker, and Vince Fries (David J. Levy), warden of Arkham Asylum, interrupt Nick Grayson’s (David Milam) S&M session. He puts up a good fight but is zapped by Mr. Fries’s freezing-gel gun, kidnapped, and taken to an abandoned warehouse. Nick hasn’t completely thawed out when Napier tells him why he’s been nabbed. Nick’s father Nightwing (Andrew Schofield) put Joker in Arkham and Napier spent his childhood laughed at and ridiculed.
Nick is just the beginning, though. Napier intends on getting every good superhero’s offspring. He and Fries leave Fries’s assistant Donna Isley (Dana Aritonavich) behind to persuade Nightwing’s ambiguously gay son to talk. A quick visit to Mr. Big (Gerry Keating) for more goons and Napier is all set. The next target: bar owner Ellen (Ellen N. Friedman), gravity-defying daughter of Wonder Woman. In the final showdown, Nick and Ellen display their butt-kicking skills, accompanied by text bubbles of “POW!” “BAM!” and “OUCH.” But, it is the duel between Mr. Big’s invisible ninja Ekin Tzu (the director himself) and Nightwing that saves the film from jovial mediocrity.
Wu effectively channels the comic book aesthetic by framing the characters in a particular way and employing the close-up for specific moments, but the quality of the actors’ performances is not as easy to judge. Is the acting deliberately bad or unintentionally bland? Vince Fries should be sinister (right?), but he is a monotone bore-head instead. Jonathan Napier is less resentful and bitter and more wide-eyed and cranky. The only villain that poses any real threat is Ekin, who demonstrates his martial arts prowess in an impressively choreographed—again by the director himself—sequence that makes “A Joker’s Card” the first film shot in Cleveland, OH to feature wirework (courtesy of Andrew Sokol, Morgan Fox, James Orosz, Dan Gallagher, Sarah Halasz, Christopher Quinn, Scott Millinovich, and Tom Luthala). Combining slow and accelerated motion, this action spectacle lasts a mere two minutes and ends with the destruction of artifice. This self-awareness suggests that “A Joker’s Card” doesn’t take itself seriously and neither should you. Knowledge of DC comic book characters definitely enhances your appreciation for the parody process, but you don’t have to be a DC expert to have a good time.