One of those thrillers that isn't half as clever as it thinks it is, and which half the time leaves you wondering what the heck is going on.
Tom Hulce is a "struggling artist" who lives in a dingy apartment in Hollywood. He has a daughter with Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, but they split up because Tom prefers to spend his time drinking, painting, and having casual sex with women he meets at a club owned by Adam Ant. Tom also spends a lot of time laughing at his own cartoons, which are painfully unfunny yet somehow earn him enough to pay the rent.
The first half-hour of the movie is unfathomable. There are a few comedic moments as we see Tom's home life, his daughter, and his broken relationship. Then, Tom comes home to a ransacked apartment and a confrontation with a scary dude in a red coat and dark glasses. Mr. Redcoat whacks Tom, and when he wakes up he's in a car with Redcoat and some other strange men. Redcoat demands Tom gives him "something" that "she" gave to him, but Tom doesn't appear to know anything about the "she" or the "something" that Redcoat is referring to. Redcoat is not happy about this, and pushes Tom out of the car, whereupon he's almost squashed by a large truck.
Tom goes to the police, and he then realises who the "she" was. Tom recently had casual sex with a woman (Virginia Madsen) whom he met at Adam Ant's club (it is later revealed that she was a prostitute, but Tom did not know this at the time). She has been found dead, and Tom was the last person to see her alive, so he's now in the frame for her murder.
Various other elements are brought into play, such as a society scandal, some incriminating photographs, a good cop, a corrupt cop, and an extremely powerful and wealthy society lady (who turns out to be behind the plot, her intention being to frame and ultimately kill Tom so that his paintings, many of which she owns, will rise in value). It's all faintly ridiculous, and progresses in such a jarring and disjointed way that it feels as though your brains are being scrambled.
There are a few priceless moments, but these aren't enough to redeem the film. What could have been an erotic scene - Tom getting to grips with a very naked Lisa Niemi - turns into extreme farce, as Tom's little daughter walks in and says "hi", completely unfazed (she's clearly used to seeing strange nude women in Daddy's apartment!) Mary then walks in, and she is somewhat less approving, so Tom desperately tries to make excuses and fails badly ("Is she a model?" "No, she's a secretary" - D'OH!) Mary storms out and Tom chases after her, to no avail. When he returns to the apartment, he finds Lisa dead (he actually trips over and lands face first in her pubic hair), so he ultimately decides he has to go on the run.
Tom goes to Mary's house and tricks her into letting him in, in the hope of finding refuge. Then, Adam Ant walks into the room wearing only a pair of underpants and a silly hat, and Tom slumps into a chair looking defeated and betrayed. This is probably the funniest moment in the whole movie.
Eventually, Tom manages to unravel the entire thing (he's doing better than the audience at this point) and he confronts Wealthy Society Lady at an outdoor party, where all of the guests (several hundred of them) appear to be in on her plot. Redcoat is assigned to drive Tom up to the Hollywood sign and kill him, but for some reason he shoots himself instead, allowing Tom to make his escape.
Tom asks Mary to meet him in a hotel room, which she does, but she brings along the Good Cop (Harry Dean Stanton) for support. Unfortunately, Corrupt Cop turns up as well and after a standoff, both cops are dead. Tom realises he is in it up to his neck and decides his only way out is to fake his own death, with Mary's help and support. Tom goes back up to the Hollywood sign, where Redcoat's body is still in the car. He takes Redcoat's dark glasses, sets the car alight and makes a dash for it.
The final scene is at "Tom's" funeral. Mary and daughter, wearing funereal clothes, get into a car. The camera pans and we see the car is being driven by a smiling Tom, who has disguised himself as Redcoat by wearing his dark glasses and combing his hair. Cue end credits; gnashing of audience teeth.
The major plot developments are unconvincing, and the conclusion unsatisfying. Too many things are left unsaid. What was Adam Ant's role in all of this? Was he in on the whole thing? Did he set Tom up with prostitutes so he could jump into bed with Mary? How did Corrupt Cop become wound up in the plot? Part of the problem is that we don't care what happens to Tom, as he is such an unlikeable character. He cheats on his wife and (knowingly or otherwise) uses hookers. He laughs at his own jokes, he appears to be mad, whiny, and delusional, and is capable of extreme violence (witness the extremely unpleasant scenes with his elderly landlady - is this supposed to be a guy we're meant to root for?) At one point, I thought there was going to be a split personality twist, where Tom and Redcoat turned out to be the same person. It's not that type of movie, though.
Sometimes, an inscrutable plot can reward an audience willing to think outside the box and unravel it. However, Slam Dance has such poorly-acted, two-dimensional characters with unconvincing motivations, you get the impression that it simply isn't worth the effort.