I’ll never forget the time back in ’91 when my friends Richard and Carlson and I were trying to figure out which movie to see. Carlson suggested My Own Private Idaho. He claimed he saw a picture of River Phoenix holding a gun, so he thought it’d be a cool mobster movie. That’s what he claimed at least.
Richard and I had no idea what the movie was about, but Carlson kept needling us. After all, River Phoenix was supposed to be cool. And hey, Keanu Reeves was in the movie, and he had just been in Point Break, which we all know was considered “awesome” by anybody in high school back in the early 90s. So Richard and I agreed to see it. How could we go wrong with Johnny Utah, right? Well, apparently you can go really wrong with Johnny Utah.
We (along with one of Carlson’s friends who didn’t go to our high school) headed to the Cinema Showcase 12. The Cinema Showcase 12 has since been revamped, but at the time it was pretty much a hole-in-the-wall theater. Picture quality was bad, sound was even worse, and the concessions on Friday were pretty much whatever was left over from Monday. Driving through the parking lot was akin to driving on the surface of the moon.
In all honesty, watching a movie at home on a big screen TV with a home theater system would’ve been better. The clientele was pretty scary as well. Let’s just say that the lyrics “the freaks come out at night” never rang more true than when you went to see an evening movie at Cinema Showcase 12. But it was cheap, and when you’re in high school with little money in your pockets, “cheap” sells. Back then we were all willing to sacrifice quality, comfort, and safety if it meant saving a couple of bucks.
So there we were, four guys together buying tickets to My Own Private Idaho. At the time we didn’t really understand why the cashier was giving us funny looks. It didn’t take long for it to become all too clear. We knew something was amiss when the only people in the theater were groups of guys who looked they were pulled straight out of a Village People concert. Richard especially got uncomfortable when a couple of guys to our left kept eyeing him.
Richard leaned over and asked, “Does Keanu Reeves have a huge gay fanbase or something?” I had no clue. I personally started to get concerned when I noticed a couple of guys in their 30s smiling at us and nodding. “Um, does anybody know what’s going on? This is kind of strange,” were the words I threw out to the group, in the hopes that somebody had an explanation. If you’ve ever heard Charlie Daniels’ Uneasy Rider ’88 then you have a good idea how out of place we felt.
Finally, the movie started. We lasted about 10 minutes. As soon as River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves started undressing for men, we knew it was probably time to skip on out of the theater. As soon as all the guys in the theater erupted into applause as the shirts came off, that skip turned into an all-out sprint.
And that, my friends, is the only movie I have ever walked out of. It taught us a couple of valuable lessons though – stay away from movies about male hustlers and never, ever let Carlson pick a movie again.