“Punks” is little more than another reprise of the proliferating gay ensemble pieces that are become increasingly hackneyed. The only thing that distinguishes it from a picture like “Broken Hearts Club” is that in this case the major characters are mostly African-American. And that, unhappily, isn’t enough.

The central figure in the group is that old standby–the earnest, solitary fellow (a photographer, of course, since his refusal to come out blatantly has left him mate-less and more than a little detached from life). His name here is Marcus, and he’s played by Seth Gilliam with that often-on-the-verge-of-tears look that is supposed to make him lovably vulnerable. Needless to say, he has a trio of colorful pals: Hill (Dwight Ewell), a sharp-tongued, HIV-positive guy who moves in with Marcus after catching his lover Gilbert (Rudolf Martin, whose accent clashes with the character’s ostensibly French background) with another man (at Hill’s thirtieth birthday party, no less); Chris (Jazzmun), an extravagant jazz queen who performs with a group called The Sisters; and Dante (Renoly Santiago), a rich Latino kid who’s been adopted by the others. The plot thickens when Darby (Rockmond Dunbar, who looks astonishingly like a buffer Cuba Gooding, Jr.) moves in next door to Marcus. Darby’s straight–his girlfriend Jennifer (Vanessa Williams) soon moves in with him–but he’s admirably open-minded, and easily becomes a friend to Marcus. Marcus’ interest in him, however, goes far beyond chaste neighborliness, and his frustration eventually leads him to some uncharacteristically daring actions.

What follows is a narrative in which each member of the inaugural quartet confronts predictable difficulties. Hill must face his illness and second thoughts about his relationship with a remorseful Gilbert. Chris is threatened with the breakup of the group for attitudinal reasons. Dante is drawn to some dangerous companions and has to be saved from his own worst inclinations. What happens to Marcus is more complex. In his search for liberation, he tries on a distinctly different persona, but more importantly his pining after Darby results in the ultimate wish-fulfillment fantasy. The ending is upbeat; whether it’s at all credible is more debatable.

There are undoubtedly viewers who will respond positively to the mixture of heavy-handed poignancy, hopefulness in the face of adversity and bitchy dialogue that writer-director Patrik-Ian Polk has concocted here. Some of the performances are certainly quite good: Gilliam does the shy routine reasonably well, Ewell has the flamboyant kitsch down pat, and Dunbar proves a strong, subtle presence. (Santiago and Jazzmun, on the other hand, are amateurish and forced.) But overall “Punks” will appeal to a relatively small audience–a niche within a niche, one might say. For them it will prove a pleasant diversion. The rest of us merely have to bear it.