powered by AFI
Just outside of New York City, career criminal John Dortmunder is released from prison and met by his brother-in-law, lock expert Andrew Kelp who excitedly confides the details of a new "job." Despite John's insistence that he will never work with Andrew again, he accompanies him to the Brooklyn Museum where they peer at an enormous diamond on display behind a special glass security case. Walking in a park later, John again refuses Andrew's proposal that they steal the stone until Andrew introduces him to Dr. Amusa, the United Nations representative of a small African country. Amusa explains that the diamond, known as the Sahara stone, originally belonged to his country which has long hoped for its return. John, who enjoys the challenge provided by criminal high jinks, reconsiders, then declares the job will require four men and demands $25,000 per member of the team. Amusa agrees to the terms, but refuses to negotiate additional daily expenses, requesting instead that the thieves make a direct request as specific needs arise. Later, John meets car expert Stan Murch at a bar, where Andrew introduces them to explosives expert Alan Greenberg. Despite Amusa's impatience to obtain the stone quickly, John insists on time to work out his plan and then orders four guard uniforms. Later at a deserted river in the country, John has Alan demonstrate numerous explosions, insisting on the biggest and loudest possible. One evening, Alan and Stan kidnap and tie up the museum's outdoor guard, then Stan crashes a stolen car near the museum's entrance, setting off a tremendous explosion that brings all of the guards outside. Feigning grave injuries, Stan screams for help while the guards struggle to comfort him. Alan, dressed as a doctor, arrives and insists that all the guards assist him in stabilizing the groaning Stan. When an ambulance appears, Alan slips away and joins John and Andrew, who, disguised as guards, have already broken into the museum. Although nervous, Andrew manages to pick the locks on the glass case but the men are delayed as they struggle to lift the heavy case. When the returning guards interrupt the heist, John and Andrew escape, while a cornered Alan is forced to swallow the stone. The next day, Andrew is delighted that the crime has made the front page headlines and laughs at the description of Stan overpowering the ambulance attendants and escaping, until John tersely reminds him that Alan is in jail and they do not have the stone. After his doctor tells John that he could develop an ulcer due to high stress levels, John reluctantly meets with Andrew, Amusa and Alan's lawyer and father, Abe Greenberg. Abe informs them that Alan has the diamond and will negotiate directly with Amusa unless the others break him out of jail. John demands a "very large" truck from Amusa, who agrees to provide the vehicle. The next night, using information passed on by Abe, Alan attacks his cellmate in order to be moved closer to the infirmary. That evening, John and Andrew cut the prison chain link fence and climb a security wall and Alan easily unlocks a rooftop door to the jail near the infirmary. After overcoming the guards, John and Andrew break into Alan's cell and hustle him away, but the men are slowed by Alan's struggles climbing the rope. As the men sprint toward the opening in the fence, the alarm sounds and tower guards fire at them. Stan roars up in a bullet-proof Mercedes and the group make a wild escape driving to a nearby truck stop. There, they pull into an enormous semi where they wait until dawn before making a clean escape. Upon meeting with Amusa the next day, the others are all startled by Alan's confession that when he feared the police would confiscate the diamond, he hid it at the station before being transferred to jail. Realizing they must now break into the police station, a frustrated John nevertheless devises a plan and requests a helicopter from Amusa. Although uncertain of Stan's professed piloting abilities, the others join him on the chopper a day later, again wearing guard's uniforms. After some fumbling, Stan manages to take off and the men fly through Manhattan where they initially land on the wrong roof before arriving atop the Ninth Precinct building. After cutting the phone wires and jamming the short wave signal, the men use smoke bombs and tear gas to sow confusion inside the precinct, but when they get to the place where Alan hid the stone, they discover that it is gone. After fleeing the station, a discouraged Stan declares he wants out of the deal, but John admits he has grown obsessed with getting the diamond. Perplexed about not finding the stone, Alan reflects out loud that the only one who knew of the diamond's hiding place was Abe, and the others realize Abe has double-crossed his son. John then arranges to meet Abe at an abandoned warehouse where they pretend to torture Alan to force Abe to admit stealing the stone. Initially Abe scoffs at them, but when Alan is apparently tossed down an elevator shaft, Abe grows fearful and eventually provides John the key to his bank safety deposit box. At the bank later, however, John quickly realizes that the security measures will not admit anyone but the box holder to the secured area. Furious, but determined, John meets with Amusa, who expresses his disgust with the thieves' failure and announces his plans to negotiate directly with Abe. John, who retains the box key, promises to meet them at the bank, then hastily arranges with a former associate, hypnosis specialist Miasmo, to hypnotize the bank security manager. As Abe and Amusa head toward the bank, John arrives first and asks to see his security box. Once in the secured area, he triggers the manager's hypnotized command and accesses Abe's security box, where he finds the Sahara stone. Pocketing the stone, John leaves the bank just as Abe and Amusa arrive. Joining his partners blocks away, John and the others drive happily through the streets of New York.