"Boulevard Nights" contrasts the fates of Raymond and Chuco Avila, brothers from the Mexican American barrio of East Los Angeles. The elder Raymond, played by Richard Yniguez, has survived and outgrown the youthful delinquency and neighborhood gang loyalties that still strongly influence the behavior of Chuco, portrayed by Danny De La Paz.
Raymond has a job he likes at a local auto shop that specializes in customizing. His respectable aspirations are reinforced by his lovely fiancee, played by Marta Dubois, who has a secretarial job downtown. When Chuco is expelled from school, Raymond persuades his boss to give his kid brother a chance, but Chuco doesn't have the same incentive for staying on the straight and narrow. Drawn back into the neighborhood gang, he becomes one of the casualties of escalating reprisal raids between his pals and a rival gang.
The premise is certainly strong enough to sustain interest, and the movie has been trimly directed by Michael Pressman and evocatively photographed in the streets and communities of East L.A. by John Bailey. Although "Boulevard Nights" got caught in the backlash of protest caused by "The Wariors" and became associated with an outbreak of gang violence in San Francisco, the film conspicuously lacks the inflammatory aspects of its controversial forerunner. The gangs are portrayed as simply an integral, volatile part of the environment in a conventionally realistic social melodrama.
"Boulevard Nights" ultimately is disappointing, since screenwriter Desmond Nakano falls back on some miserable melodramatic devices to force his material to a showdown. A gang bullet meant for Chuco kills dear little Mrs. Avila on the day of Raymond's wedding. Still, it's a respectable, absorbing sort of movie, even though you have to admit it doesn't work.
"Boulevard Nights" might still strike a few nerves among urban audiences in many parts of the country.
There aren't all that many movies that portray an interesting outline of a dramatic conflict these days. The growing alienation between Raymond and Chuco is a theme worth exploring, and its implications are magnified in a peculiar way by the physical contrasts between the smooth, good-looking and personable Yniguez and the gawky, homely andresentful De La Paz.
De La Paz does bear a striking resemblance to one of the boys in Luis Bunuel's "Los Olvidados," which shares a special place, along with Vitorio De Sica's "Shoeshine", as one of the great movies on the subject of juvenile delinquency.
Perhaps Pressman was conscious of The resemblance when he cast De La Pas, and perhaps not. At any rate, De La Paz is his most effective performer, an embodiment of a troubled young punk that lingers in your mind. If the conflict between Raymond and Chuco had been written with a little more urgency and sophistication, "Boulevard Nights" might have lingered, too.