Hangin' with the Homeboys (1991) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for sexual content, brief nudity, and language
Running time: 88 min.
Cast: John Leguizamo, Mario Joyner, Nestor Serrano, Doug E. Doug, Mary B. Ward, Kimberly Russell, Reggie Montgomery
Director: Joseph B. Vasquez
Screenplay: Joseph B. Vasquez
Review published July 6, 2007
Writer-director Joseph Vasquez (Street Hitz, Manhattan Merengue) draws from a good deal of personal experience to tell this coming-of-age story for four South Bronx friends one eventful night while looking to party and have fun. There's Willie (Doug, Eight Legged Freaks), a jobless Black man who doesn't bother trying because he thinks that's selling out to the White man; meanwhile he does nothing but mooch off of his friends for money. His best friend is Johnny (Legizamo, Super Mario Bros.), a dreamer who puts things on false pedestals who is on the verge of a decision as to whether or not to go to college' his depression at not being able to score the woman of his dreams has led to some terrible nights out for the other guys who can't seem to console him.
One of the guys who wants to have more of a good time is Fernando (Serrano, Lethal Weapon 2), AKA"Vinny" as he likes to be called in front of women; he is also jobless, but has no shortage of money since he's essentially a gigolo. Finally, there's Thomas (Joyner, Pootie Tang), an aspiring actor who has a car to shuttle the boys around in, though he's depressed that his evening with a special lady friend has fallen through.
Although this is formula stuff at its core, the originality and inspiration of the material shines through, with four very different characters that somehow transcend easy caricatures to evolve into three-dimensional people. Vasquez not only nails these personalities, but also does a fine job in the casting department, particularly in the Puerto Rican roles inhabited by John Leguizamo and Nestor Serrano, who are absolutely dynamite. Comedian Joyner shows some aptitude for drama in mostly a straight role. The only liability is Doug E. Doug, who plays comedy well, but his lack of conviction when forced to look angry or hurt does weaken some scenes where seriousness is called for.
Perhaps the greatest strength of the film is that these four very different men seem like genuine friends in strained relationships. They needle each other, squabble like bratty siblings, and yet they always bounce back. Deep down they all tolerate each other, despite the annoyances and differences, which is, after all, the way people who know one another always operate, whether they be friends, families or lovers.
Although it might seem farfetched for such life-altering events to occur within the course of a single evening, it's actually fairly believable, despite some major contrivance, because Vasquez keeps his developments modest. People run into one another conveniently, but since these run-ins are more surprises than easy predictions, we're kept off-balance enough to go with the flow, especially when these scenes pay off with choice bits of comedy and drama. Though a simple plot, the themes are multi-layered, delving into the mentality among many young men who think they are better than everyone else, all the while pulling each other down because, deep down, they feel they aren't cracked up to be anything.
When it's funny, it's very funny. When it's profound, it shows surprising depth. If you like Diner and Swingers, this gets a definite recommendation. All in all, this is a much overlooked gem that is worth seeking out for some good laughs, food for thought, and inspiration for one's own life when it looks like there's just no getting out of a rut. We're a fifth wheel on the action, but Vasquez and the homeboys are down to always pay our way in to experience the good times right along with them.
©2007 Vince Leo