When new evidence confirms that he was framed, reporter Harry Barber (Woody Harrelson) is released from prison after serving two years. He then goes on to demonstrate repeatedly that he is the dumbest, most masochistic noir hero since Adam ate the apple. His original plan, to leave Palmetto, is foiled when he runs into his girlfriend Nina (Gina Gershon), a successful sculptor who truly loves him. Unfortunately, he also runs into Rhea Malroux (Elisabeth Shue), a conniving femme fatale and wife of a dying millionaire, who offers him $50,000 for a small part in a phony kidnapping of her stepdaughter Odette (Chloe Sevigny. Feeling that he is owed something for his lost two years, and blinded by Rhea's sexuality, Harry agrees to participate even after he realizes he was set up from the very beginning. Complicating matters for himself, he also accepts an offer from the DA to serve as press liaison on the case. As the kidnapping careens out of control, Harry's involvement follows the same trajectory. His downfall is that he thinks he's clever, but his ability to think rationally is compromised from the start and worsens from there.