Iowa-dentity

From the sublime to the ridiculous. Last week's column detailed the embarrassment of riches that New York City has to offer. This week, the quest for entertainment yielded only embarrassment. Sundays in Des Moines, Iowa, don't afford the casual tourist many options--unless of course you're a girls' volleyball team in the lobby of a Holiday Inn, where the pheromones were thick as corn liquor. I, however, was going to a different party.

Billy Joe's Pitcher Show, in West Des Moines, was established in 1984 and bills itself as "Iowa's ONLY restaurant-style movie theater and FIRST karaoke lounge!" BJPS has a full sports bar, video poker, and a program offering musings like "I'm tired of our guys getting picked off one by one in Iraq." While I've always loved the idea of a cinema where you can eat, drink, and smoke while you watch, my experiences in such establishments have traditionally been less than edifying. It might be the fact that they only ever seem to show second- or third-run sub-blockbusters; it might be that the picture and sound quality is generally weak; or it might be the fact that just when things are getting good, there's a waitress in your face asking if you want more Buffalo wings. Whatever the cause, the effect of a trip to the movie/bar is usually a pledge never to go back. But then sometimes you find yourself in Des Moines on a Sunday night, watching a film only slightly more implausible than the theater itself.

Identity, by James Mangold, was a minor hit a few months back, and like most semipopular suspense thrillers of recent times, it deserves to be forgotten. Ten actors stuck in a motel on a stormy night get killed, one by one, until you find out that they're all facets of one deranged multiple personality disorder. And your point is? Because the movie was unpleasant and the suspense unriveting, I focused my wandering attention on the large audience of bovine Iowan cinephiles, scarfing down pizza, cheese fries, and nachos in between cigarettes and pitchers of beer. Unlike most of the movie pubs I've attended in the past, Billy Joe's was packed. One of the ushers told me that this crowd was nothing compared to when they show pay-per-view wrestling; depending on the bout, he said, they usually have standing room only.

My urban bias notwithstanding, Billy Joe's Pitcher Show seems a fitting destination for Des Moines. The movie sucked, and so did the food, but at least it was a party. It's also the kind of business that doesn't seem to want to fly in Seattle. The Aurora Cinema Grill went under several times before closing its smelly doors permanently in 2001. The Big Picture in Belltown is still struggling to find a regular audience by offering a swankier variation on the same theme, but one wonders if the megatacky Billy Joe's model ("All the fun wrapped into one!") is the better path.

And, if anyone's curious, X-Men 2 starts Friday.

Support The Stranger