A drugs dealer climbs into a car and asks the two men inside if they are looking for anything, but things quickly turn nasty when the passenger pulls a gun on him and fills him with lead. To top that, he then murders the driver so he can have all the drugs to himself, then dumps his body in the back; soon the police are on the scene, including their resident photographer Wayne (Robert De Niro) who they ironically call Mad Dog on account of his reserved nature. After he has taken the pictures, he heads off to the nearby convenience store, where he has a life-changing surprise waiting for him...
That surprise is none other than Bill Murray, and the point here was that the two stars were playing against type. So when Wayne realises that there's something up in the store when he notices Murray's Frank Milo lying on the floor behind the counter, he does not turn to De Niro-style violence on the thug who is posing as the shopkeeper, but talks him down and allows him to escape. Frank is disgusted at this and for his trouble gets hit on the head by the escaping felon, the same one who killed in the opening scene, but this will spark a curious relationship.
Originally the filmmakers wanted De Niro to play Frank, and that is because he would have been the latest in the run of gangster roles for the star, but he insisted on being the mousy Wayne instead, and his instincts proved correct, for he's not bad at all as the shy photographer who is something of a loser: unmarried despite being in middle age, his youthful dreams of being an artist long behind him, and unable to say boo to a goose. Murray's Mafia boss is no less intriguing for going against his typical style, a would-be stand up comedian who brings out the crueller side to Murray's wisecracking persona - Frank really isn't a very funny guy, in spite of the way his underlings laugh sycophantically at his jokes.
Not that you could say this to his face: not until Wayne, after being invited to Frank's club to see his act, voices the opinion that his routine seems too hostile to be all that amusing. Frank simply wanted to thank him for saving his life, as ordered to by his therapist, but now he feels there's a connection and spends the evening with him. Wayne is pleased with the attention, though doesn't think it will go any further seeing as how they're on opposite sides of the law, but then Frank gives him a gift which topples the film into uncomfortable male wish fulfilment fantasy. The gift is a woman, Glory (Uma Thurman), who will stay with him for a week.
Wayne is lonely, no doubt about it, and Richard Price's script has him try to persuade Glory to leave him alone, but you won't be convinced and after a while he has fallen in love with her, although we're never sure whether she wholly feels the same way about him or is simply saying what she thinks Frank wants her to say. Really it's all about Wayne reclaiming his masculinity, finding his feet in a world where all the other men have no compunctions about using force to get what they want, a world where Wayne doesn't fit too well. Yet Price presents him as being liberated by the macho bullshit, and the reshoots that were imposed on the originally less heroic film mean that director John McNaughton's work seems to be endorsing what is pretty much a form of prostitution as being good for the (male) soul. It's a film that never finds its groove, but De Niro and Murray are worth seeing for their idiosyncratic - for the time - performances. Music by Elmer Bernstein.