Don’t let the hip-hop title fool you. Joseph B. Vasquez’s comedy, Hangin’ With the Homeboys, about four wayward pals from the South Bronx comes on as a good-time party movie, but it’s better than that. It’s a low-budget knockout — an inner-city Diner that catches the joshing, thrusting rhythms of urban male camaraderie. From its crackerjack opening sequence, in which the characters stage a violent squabble on the subway and then thank everyone on board for attending another evening of ”Ghetto Theater,” the movie lets you know that these guys aren’t going to be summed up in a glance. Vasquez introduces his four buddies — two black and two Puerto Rican — in separate vignettes (an homage to Scorsese’s Mean Streets). There’s the righteous, unemployed Willie (Doug E. Doug), whose refrain is an angry, ”You’re sayin’ that because I’m black, right?”; Vinny (Nestor Serrano), a stud who thinks he’s Italian; Tom (Mario Joyner), a struggling actor; and Johnny (John Leguizamo), a soft-spoken supermarket clerk who’s a ”romantic” partly because he’s terrified of women.
The film is set on one long, rambling Friday night in which the boys cruise their neighborhood and then venture into Manhattan. They cram into a Times Square peep-show booth to watch a porno movie. They crash a dance club and discover a world of stone-cold yuppies. They lose their car and get arrested. As a writer-director, Vasquez has the kind of comic-dramatic film sense you’ve got to be born with. He catches the insular foolishness of male rituals: For one evening, these guys have banished women from their lives so that they can hang out together — and then all they want to do is look for women. In a sense, the characters remain types, but the actors fill out their roles, especially Leguizamo, who gives Johnny a furtive, soulful complexity. He lends an emotional credence to the film’s message, which is that you have to help yourself — not because some phony ”go for it” triumph awaits, but because if you don’t no one else will. B+