Ryan Gaerity (Jones), an insane Irish terrorist, escapes from his cell in a castle prison in Northern Ireland. Meanwhile, in faraway Boston, Lt. Jimmy Dove (Jeff Bridges) is a veteran bomb disposal technician for the Boston Police Department bomb squad. He irritates his captain, partner and everyone else when he plays hero and disarms explosives.
Nobody, except for his uncle Max O'Bannon (Lloyd Bridges), knows of Jimmy's past during The Troubles. Originally from Belfast, Northern Ireland, Jimmy's actual name is Liam McGivney. He had been friends and partners with Gaerity, who, unbeknownst to him, was a freelance terrorist. After a botched attempt to stop Gaerity led to the bomber's imprisonment and the death of his girlfriend (Gaerity's sister), Liam fled to the USA.
Gaerity now comes to Boston to seek vengeance against Jimmy.
Provides examples of:
- all lowercase letters: The actors' names on the poster.
- Adult Fear: Leaving your child alone, playing on the beach. Then, a stranger comes to talk to him/her, and suddenly they're gone. Gets even worse when you run and find them both, and the stranger looks like a nice guy. Are you being paranoid, or is this kidnapper clever?
- Artistic License Chemistry: Somewhat averted, believe it or not. Every bomb seen in the film is based on real world bomb making and chemistry concepts; for example, the bomb that takes out the Dolphin uses manganese heptoxide as it's ignition (the green stuff on the coffee filters) laid on top of some kind of fuel, presumably gasoline. However, manganese heptoxide is extremely volatile and quite a strong oxidizer, and it's introduction to something as thin and flimsy as a coffee filter would have caused it to burst into flames long before it ever reached the fuel tanks on the boat. Still, it's a nice attention to detail if you know your chemistry.
- Big "NO!": Jimmy, as Max sacrifices himself to avoid the bomb Gaerity wired him to taking Jimmy with him as well.
- Black Best Friend: Anthony Franklin (Forest Whitaker) to Jimmy Dove.
- Chekhov's Gun: Two of them.
- The Bouncing Betty in the Training demonstration, especially how it works.
- A statue is visible next to Jimmy after Max blows himself up. A metal roulette ball was blown into the statue, giving Jimmy a clue as to where Ryan is located.
- Dark and Troubled Past: Jimmy's past in Northern Ireland.
- Ghost Ship: Gaerity hideout in Boston is an abandoned gambling ship named Dolphin.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Max blows himself up so as to ensure that Jimmy doesn't die with him.
- Improbable Weapon User: Gaerity is not just an expert at Stuff Blowing Up, he's also good at using everything in the bomb as a lethal weapon. The first bomb that the Boston Police deals with (and kills a bomb specialist, not to mentions blows up a chunk of bridge) is a pipe bomb specifically designed like a bazooka, with the "backblast" of the explosion bouncing off a metal plate and hitting the specialist full-on behind the thick metal column he chose to protect himself when he shot the bomb... as Gaerity expected him to.
- Irish Explosives Expert: Both Gaerity and Jimmy.
- Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: Gaerity in the bomb squad department.
- Land Mine Goes "Click!":
- A co-worker of the lead protagonist character, Anthony Franklin (Forrest Whitaker) hears the click of the trigger for an explosive trap planted by Ryan Gaerity as he sits down. Franklin survives, courtesy of a phone call made by using his foot to dial 911 on the telephone that was just beyond his reach.
- There's also several other variations on this. In an early scene where the bomb disposal expert is teaching a class, Franklin is being overly cocky, so the instructor tells him to come up to the front of the class to demonstrate how to disarm a Bouncing Betty. As he's walking, he steps on one with a click, and the instructor tells him there's no way of disarming it when it's already active. Franklin tries away, figures out the explosive payload is just paint, and sets it off by walking away. Later in the film, this becomes relevant when the protagonist, confronting Gaerity, is caught standing on a real Bouncing Betty land mine. He steps off, using the explosion to help him take out Gaerity and getting injured himself.
- Large Ham: Tommy Lee Jones and Lloyd Bridges were clearly having fun.
- MacGyvering: Gaerity is a bomb-making artist. He can "make bombs out of Bisquick."
- Mad Bomber: Gaerity. And how. He even goes so far as to wire up Max, his substitute father, to a bomb, when Max tries to warn Jimmy of Gaerity's plot. Though Jimmy tries to help, it doesn't end well for Max.
- Mass "Oh, Crap!": In the opening bomb scene, Manfred the robot is set up so that it can take over for a woman who is forced to type into a computer to prevent a bomb from going off. When Manfred malfunctions and jams its fingers into the keyboard, this is everyone's reaction, especially Jimmy who is forced to disarm the bomb by hand.
- Officer O'Hara: It seems like every cop in Boston is Irish, with most of them having accents that indicate they are first generation immigrants.
- Oh, Crap!: Three of them.
- Jimmy gets one during the night of his wedding when the bomb that kills Blanket goes off.
- Jimmy gets another one when the second bomb is revealed to be hidden inside Manfred.
- Franklin gets one when he realizes his earphones have a bomb in them.
- Post-Climax Confrontation: After killing Gaerity, Jimmy has to go back to save Kate from being blown up by a car bomb.
- Psycho for Hire: Gaerity, before he was imprisoned.
- Rage Against the Legal System: Variation. Gaerity wants Jimmy to suffer and die-the lot of cops who are racing to disable his bombs and are being blown up by him are, in his words, just "casualties of war". Dove shuts him up by pointing out that Gaerity is just lying off his ass.
- Reformed Criminal: Jimmy Dove. He used his knowledge of explosives to become a bomb disposal cop.
- Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Villainous version.
- Sadistic Choice: Max has to decide on whether to blow himself up or have Jimmy try to disarm his bomb which risks blowing BOTH of them up. He opts for the Heroic Sacrifice.
- The Sociopath: Gaerity.
- Soft-Spoken Sadist: Gaerity.
- Stuff Blowing Up: Given the main villain is a Mad Bomber practicing his skills, things exploding are pretty much a given.
- Western Terrorists: Gaerity was an explosives expert who worked with the IRA, as did Jimmy in his youth.