W hen a series of grisly murders in Warsaw in linked to the disappearance of a Russian physicist with a portable atomic bomb, an FBI agent is sent to help the investigation, and the race is on to find the bomb before it ends up in the wrong hands.
It’s 1992 in Warsaw, Poland, and the communist era has recently ended.
Grisly murders, originally attributed to rival mafias, suddenly become an international case when radiation is detected on the third victim’s hands. Immediately it’s feared that all three victims have been couriers smuggling nuclear material out of the defunct Soviet Union. The new Solidarity government asks for help, and the FBI sends Agent Jay Porter to assist in the investigation.
When Jay learns that a Russian physicist who designed a suitcase-sized atomic bomb is missing, the race is on to find him—and the bomb—before it ends up in the hands of a delusional Serbian general. That delusional general is Dravko Mladic, head of Yugoslavia’s Secret Service, who is determined to reestablish an independent Serbia. To that end, he has been smuggling weapons from Poland, and that has caught the attention of the CIA, which sends Kurt Crawford to Warsaw to investigate.
Not-so-coincidentally, General Mladic has been in Warsaw each time a courier has been murdered, which makes him the lead suspect. Jay and Kurt team up to trap him.
On his flight to Poland, Jay’s suitcase was lost, but that problem has a fortuitous outcome: he meets Lilka, who works at the airport. They start to date. Due to an acute housing shortage, Lilka is forced to live with her abusive ex-husband, Jacek, a truck driver for one of the mafias.
Jacek has been transporting Mladic’s weapons to Yugoslavia, and he picked up the three murdered couriers at the Russian border. He also deals drugs. In exchange for border passes, he supplies heroin to Basia Husarska, a high-ranking police officer who happens to be Jay’s counterpart in the Polish police.
Basia is lovers with General Mladic. Theirs is an old affair that he rekindled with promises to make her ‘queen of Serbia’ in exchange for facilitating his weapons smuggling. However, once Mladic knows the fourth courier has made it out of Russia with the portable bomb, he dumps her. She decides to double-cross him. She intercepts Jacek when he returns from the border with the missing Russian physicist. They kill him and take the bomb, intending to extort a pay-off from Mladic. For his part, Mladic believes the Russian—the fourth courier—has simply been delayed.
General Mladic may be lovers with Basia, but he is also a closeted homosexual. He struggles to resist his urges and fails. Basia knows this, and as part of her strategy to keep him in town until she can figure out what to do, she encourages him to enjoy pleasures he’s denied at home while waiting for the missing courier. Jay and Kurt, also wanting to keep Mladic from departing, convince the U.S. Ambassador to host a cocktail party for him the next evening.
Kurt learns from a local operative that Mladic is likely to show up at a gay baths. Gay himself, Kurt goes to the baths hoping to encounter Mladic, and does. He seduces the general, and convinces him to take him back to his hotel room, suggesting a sexual act that plays right into Mladic’s narcissistic fetishes. While in his room, Kurt sees an unusual steamer suitcase.
At the Ambassador’s party the following night, Jay and Kurt play out an elaborate deception. Of course Mladic is shocked to see Kurt, who laughs off their sexual encounter as a pleasurable coincidence. The CIA man then passes himself off as an arms dealer for Uncle Sam’s ‘shadow’ foreign policy and promises a supply of American weapons to support the General’s struggle for an independent Serbia. When Jay joins the party, he describes the murder of the fourth courier, and Mladic realizes that he’s been double-crossed.
Later that night, Kurt and Mladic hook up again at the baths. In the course of some heavy sex, Mladic, believing Kurt to be his new benefactor, betrays Basia.
When Lilka describes a mysterious suitcase that Jacek brought home, Jay realizes it matches Kurt’s description of the suitcase in Mladic’s room. He reasons that an exchange had been planned—money for bomb—using identical suitcases, and Jacek still has the bomb. He breaks into Jacek and Lilka’s apartment intending to steal it.
Jacek arrives home unexpectedly. He kidnaps Jay and takes him to his mechanic’s shed. He summons Basia and Mladic to make the exchange. Jay, meanwhile, manages to get a message to Kurt, who comes to rescue him at the shack. There’s a firefight and Jacek is killed. Basia and Mladic flee. She takes the steamer suitcase full of money and he has the bomb.
Kurt and Jay race to the airport to stop Mladic. Too late: he’s already beyond passport control, and besides, he has diplomatic immunity. Kurt grabs a newspaper, holds it up for Mladic to see, and throws him a lewd kiss. Mladic understands: Kurt will out him. It will be his ruin, and the ruin of his grand plans for Serbia.
After takeoff, Mladic, overwrought with despair, decides to end it all right there. He grabs his suitcase from the overhead compartment and tries to detonate the bomb. Instead, dozens of lipstick tubes explode from it! It’s a practical joke played by the Russian physicist. Everyone laughs at him and he crumples into his seat. He’s arrested when his plane lands.
Back home, Basia knows her crimes will be exposed. She can’t imagine any future for herself. She flings Mladic’s million dollars in the air. As it rains down on her, she intentionally overdoses.
The investigation is over. Jay and Lilka bid a sad farewell.