Hangin’ With the Homeboys: Vasquez Tale of Four Young Men

Joseph H. Vasquez’s taut film Hangin’ With the Homeboys showcases a finely tuned ear and superb comic timing.

The film follows the (mis)adventures of four young men–two black and two Hispanic–on a typical Friday night as they cruise their Bronx neighborhood.

Charting the same territory as other “cruising” pictures (American Graffiti, Diner), Hangin’ serves as an allegory about growing up and making choices. Even if the odds appear insurmountable, the film suggests, survival depends on taking charge. By the end of the film, it’s clear which of the four will make something of his life and which will be left behind.

Night on the town turns into a series of comic disasters; every activity shimmers with danger and mystery. The quartet prowl the streets in search of excitement, before descending on Manhattan, where they frequent discos, pool halls, peep shows and subway stations. A varied quartet at a crossroads, there are two blacks and two Puerto Ricans. Confused and perpetually broke, Willie (Doug E. Doug) blames every tiny setback in his life on racism. “You’re doing this because I’m black!” he splutters in what becomes a humorous refrain. Tom (Mario Joyner), an unemployed actor with a job in telemarketing, exudes the kind of self-confidence that survives even after smashing up his car, losing his girlfriend, and caught by the police for jumping a subway turnstile.

Johnny and Vinny, who are both Puerto Rican, are just as dissimilar. Johnny (John Leguizamo), who works as a grocery clerk, can’t make up his mind whether to to go to college. A depressive type, he combats self-pity by reminding himself of all the starving people in China. As the most compelling character, the nervous Johnny has a secret crush on a sultry young woman, whom he later sees in a peep show.

The most extroverted is Vinny (Nestor Serano), a gigolo living off women while passing himself off as Italian. His hostility toward women is reflected in his obsession with quick seduction. Vinny, whose real name is Fernando, stakes so much of his identity on a phony Italian image that when challenged by an Italian-American cop, he’s utterly humiliated.

Hangin’ with the Homeboys, whose screenplay was cited by the Jury at the Sundance Festival, failed to find an audience despite critical support.

It was released at a time when the public seemed more intrigued by a cycle of inner-city dramas, or ‘hood movies, as they became known. Three movies defined this cycle: Boyz N’ the Hood, a studio movie, and Straight Out of Brooklyn and Menace II Society, both quintessential indies albeit in different ways.