The film opens with three criminals – Ray (Billy Bob Thornton), an immoral and slightly neurotic thief, Fantasia (Cynda Williams), Ray’s less violent girlfriend and Pluto (Michael Beach), an intelligent yet psychotic killer. After Fantasia sets up several friends, Ray and Pluto commit six brutal murders over the course of one night in Los Angeles, with the intention of finding a cache of money and cocaine. The trio leaves town for Houston to sell the cocaine to a friend of Pluto’s.
The LAPD start investigating the case, with two detectives taking the helm. After getting a few good leads, they discover that the three are possibly headed for Star City, Arkansas. The LAPD contacts the Star City sheriff, Dale “Hurricane” Dixon (Bill Paxton). Dixon is not what they expect. Dixon often talks too much, listens too little, and takes things for granted. Dixon is excited about the case, as it gives him an opportunity to do “some real police work”. Dixon is well known throughout the small county, saying hello to everyone – except one five-year-old black child whom he occasionally sees. Whenever he sees this particular child, Dixon becomes quiet and uncomfortable.
The detectives travel to Star City and meet up with Dixon. Dixon attempts to ingratiate himself with the LAPD detectives, whom he reveres.
Meanwhile, Ray, Fantasia, and Pluto are headed to Houston. They are pulled over by a state trooper. The trooper, acting on a hunch, orders Pluto and Ray out of the car at gunpoint. However, Fantasia sneaks up behind the trooper and shoots him in the head.
Word of the trooper’s murder gets to the detectives in Star City, and the trio look over surveillance photos of Ray and Fantasia in a convenience store before the murder. Dixon informs the cops that Fantasia’s real name is Lila Walker. Lila grew up in Star City, Dixon says, and was a troubled youth who left for Hollywood with dreams of an acting career.
The detectives sense there is more to the story. The detectives stop by Lila’s relatives’ house. There they see the young boy that makes Dixon so uncomfortable. The boy is revealed to be Lila’s young son. The detectives get the feeling that Lila is coming home to see him.
Ray, Lila and Pluto arrive in Houston to sell the drugs as planned. Lila takes a bus ahead from Houston to Star City while Pluto and Ray stay behind to work the coke deal. The Houston coke deal goes terribly sour for Ray and Pluto, who then have to kill three more people and flee the city. The two drive from Houston to Star City to meet up with Lila and plan their next move.
Lila arrives in town and hides out at a rural house; she gets to see her son before she must flee. When Lila’s time with her son is up, Dixon confronts her, and it is revealed that the boy is Dixon and Lila’s son, conceived during an affair he and Lila had years before. After much tense conversation, they make a deal. Lila will lure Ray and Pluto to ensure their capture. In exchange, Dixon will help Lila escape town.
Pluto and Ray arrive at the house and are immediately confronted by an armed Dixon. Pluto stabs Dixon in the stomach and Dixon shoots Pluto at point blank range. Ray draws his gun and runs outside while shooting at Dixon. The two fire at each other outside, but Lila stops Dixon from killing Ray only to have Ray errantly shoot her in the head. Dixon is shot in the chest, but steadies himself and shoots Ray to death. Pluto walks outside and falls dead in the grass. Dixon calls for help with his police radio and the LAPD detectives (and Lila’s son) arrive, amazed at the work he has done. Dixon and Lila’s son walks over and talks to Dixon, and he asks the boy about himself.
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