Russell Stevens Jr. (Fishburne) is a cop recruited by the DEA to go deep undercover in the Los Angeles drug trade and help the prosecution of key members of the cartel. He eventually makes a name for himself and becomes a major distributor, but problems arise when he allies himself with David Jason (Goldblum), a crooked lawyer with ambitions beyond his station.
This film provides examples of:
- Amoral Attorney: David Jason is a drug lawyer who dreams of setting up his own operation producing synthetic drugs.
- Becoming the Mask: Russell is chosen to become an undercover narcotics officer because his personality is so similar to that of a typical criminal. As he discovers, he's actually pretty good at being a drug dealer. Eventually he's forced to sell crack cocaine for real because his handler doesn't have enough money in the budget to pay for all the stuff he brings in. Ultimately subverted in that he never completely loses sight that he's still a cop and helps to dismantle a major supplier.
- Cassandra Gambit: Russell has to Take a Third Option when asked by a gang of thugs if he's an undercover cop. If he lies, then any future arrest would be worthless because it'd be considered "entrapment". And of course, if he tells the truth, they'll kill him. So he just tells them the truth in a way that makes it seem ridiculous. (Note: This is actually a case of Artistic License Law. Real cops don't have to tell their marks that they're undercover. The entrapment clause doesn't work that way. Because if it did, there'd be a lot fewer arrests and a lot more dead cops.)
- Corrupt Politician: Hector Guzman is a prominent Latin American politician who plays golf with George Bush Sr. and is also the kingpin of a drug cartel with his nephew Gallegos as the front man.
- If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten: When it becomes necessary to take out a competing drug dealer, Russell actually goes ahead and kills him.
- Must State If You're a Cop: There's a scene where the undercover cop protagonist is asked point blank if he's a cop. To cover himself and his investigation he admits that he is, but answers the question in an incredibly sarcastic way to make it seem like he's bullshitting.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: After undercover cop Russell Stevens sets up a deal with drug kingpin Hector Guzman to record the transaction, he is followed by a local narcotics detective who scares off Guzman and almost sabotages the whole thing.
- N-Word Privileges: Played with. Lt. Carver interviews three different black police officers to see if they can be recruited for his undercover program by bluntly asking each of them "What's the difference between a black man and a nigger?". The first one tries to awkwardly answer the question thus showing that he's too docile, the second one flies into a rage which shows that he's too easily provoked, but Russell (who's the third officer) calmly tells him "only a nigger would answer that question" to show him as more cunning and diplomatic than the previous two. At the end, he does repeat the question and punches Carver in the stomach.
- Race Fetish: David wonders aloud why he likes having sex with black women so much; Russell says it's actually a slave fetish.
- Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: After one of Barbossa's henchmen is caught by the police, the henchman gives up undercover cop Russell (thinking he's just a street dealer) to keep his own ass out of jail, confident that his bosses would consider Russell expendable. Instead they kill the henchman for making a deal with the cops and reward Russell for keeping his mouth shut all the way to his trial by giving him the henchman's job.