This violent extravaganza in the vein of RESERVOIR DOGS (1992) sets up the desperation of its protagonists and spends the rest of its running time painting them into tighter corners. Fresh out of the pen, minor crook Jack Sweeny (James Marshall) soon learns that job-hunting is a bummer. After failing to secure legitimate employment at a bank, Jack finds himself pinned down in a gun battle on a nearby thoroughfare. Unhappy with the terms of a crooked deal, mobster Gianni Ponti (Dennis Hopper) has ordered Buddy (Sasha Mitchell) and Carlo (Eric Roberts) to steal a valise containing counterfeit plates from his price-gouging partners in crime. To Carlo's amazement, federal agent Max Fenton (William Forsythe) butts into this inter-criminal rivalry. While bullets fly between the feds and the two gangs, Jack retrieves what he believes is a briefcase fall of cash, but discovers that the valise instead contains the plates, which are worth millions. Jack enlists the help of former-partner Zippo (Michael Madsen) in selling the goods on the black market, though his new girlfriend, bank teller Rebecca Johnson (Wendy Benson), would surely disapprove. Jack soon learns that it's truly a small world after all: Rebecca's boss launders money for Gianni, and her father, Sterling Johnson (Frank Gorshin), is Gianni's debt-ridden associate. Jack decides to cut out Gianni in favor of hoodlum McNeilly (Ice-T), but after a close encounter with the murderous Carlo, Jack realizes he's bitten off more than he can chew. Then Sterling gets iced and to save himself from the same fate, Jack must bluff his way through a high stakes game played by savage gangsters and ruthless federal agents. This unapologetically brutal underworld spree represents a triumph of directorial panache over familiar material; the nihilistic flick's high point is a nail-biting sequence involving the assault on the counterfeiters' car.
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