A variety of crooks, losers, and working stiffs living in the shadow of Hollywood find their various personal crises overlapping in this intricately woven melodrama. Lee Woods (James Spader) is a cold-blooded hit man and Dosmo Pizzo (Danny Aiello) a soft-at-heart gangster; they've been sent to murder Roy Foxx (Peter Horton), the former husband of also-ran Olympic skier Becky Foxx (Teri Hatcher). Lee's girlfriend Helga (Charlize Theron) is unhappy about his habit of killing people, and she attracts the attention of Alvin (Jeff Daniels) and Wes (Eric Stoltz), two cops who've been put on vice detail but don't have the heart to bust the prostitute they've been trailing. Alvin dreams of becoming a homicide detective, so when he discovers that he might be on the trail of a murder, it's like Santa Claus showed up in mid-July to hand him a present. Dosmo manages to escape the crime scene, only to foil a murder attempt by Lee, forcing him to hide out in the home of Hopper, a pretentious English art dealer (Greg Cruttwell), whom Dosmo holds hostage along with Hopper's long-suffering assistant, Susan (Glenne Headly). In the midst of all this, a down-on-his-luck television director (Paul Mazursky) contemplates suicide (the main stumbling block is finding someone to take care of his dog) while also being pestered by an actor with equally bad luck (Austin Pendleton) and meeting a compassionate nurse (Marsha Mason) on a visit to a cemetery.
by Mark Deming synopsis