Italian American Harry Valentini (Danny DeVito) and his Jewish friend and next-door neighbor Moe Dickstein (Joe Piscopo) are at the bottom rung of the gang of Newark Mafia boss Anthony Castelo (Dan Hedaya). They are sent to a racetrack to place a bet on Castelo's behalf. Harry changes horses at the last minute because his boss usually bets on the wrong one. However, this time Castelo had fixed the race, meaning that Harry and Moe now owe their boss $250,000. After a night of torture, both are forced to agree to kill each other, with each one made unaware that the other also made a deal.
Not to be confused with the TV series Wiseguy, also about gangsters, although one of that show's stars, Ray Sharkey, also has a prominent role here.
This film features examples of:
- Big Eater: Acavano is huge for a reason; following Harry's faked death, he's seen eating a sandwich during the funeral service.
- External Combustion: Testing a car for this is one of Harry's chores, as the low man in the Family. Wincing, he turns the engine over, and doesn't blow up. He makes it back to the other happy laughing mobsters, including his boss, and they chat. THEN it blows up.
- Fat Bastard: Frank "The Fixer" Acavano, one of Castelo's top men, is a violent psychopath, and also heavyset.
- Interrupted Suicide: After believing to have killed Harry, Moe returns to his house and prepares to hang himself. Before doing so, sees a vision of Harry at the foot of the stairs. He quickly realizes that it is actually Harry, who arranged his death. Moe is thrilled, although he is so shocked that he is almost hanged anyway until Harry intervenes.
- Kosher Nostra: Moe is the sole Jewish gangster in Castelo's otherwise Italian-American gang.
- Oh, Crap!: Castelo has one of these after he realizes the house he's in is filled with gas, just as he took out a cigarette and his stooges routinely sparked their lighters for him, just before the house explodes, with him and his crew inside it.
- Real Men Can Cook: Harry and Moe, an Italian and Jewish gangsters respectively, dream of opening the world's first Jewish-Italian delicatessen. However, they get little to no respect from their boss or his subordinates, who frequently ridicule them. They eventually do have their dream realized at the end of the film.
- Watch the Paint Job: Harry and Moe swipe a classic '59 Cadillac belonging to a Mafia assassin, paint it pink, then eventually proceed to batter the hell out of it as part of a death wish/act of revenge.