The film opens with a robbery of a liquor store by a group of well-armed young men, as an unseen man listens to a police scanner. That man, wearing a welding mask, suddenly appears behind the store as the men flee, incinerating two of them with a flamethrower. The survivors flee underground, revealing their membership in a street gang led by a charismatic man named X (Van Peebles).
The film alternates scenes between John Eastland (Ginty) and X. Eastland develops a relationship with a dancer named Caroline (Geffner). X announces his plans of leading the gang to rule the streets and the city. The gang robs an armored car and shoots down a police helicopter. A garbage truck passing by driven by Be Gee (Faison) swerves into the crowd of gangsters, scattering them right before the police can arrive. The gang performs a torch-lit execution of the armored car driver in the subway, while X's brother is incinerated by the masked man. Later, the film then follows Eastland and Be Gee, Vietnam veterans, reuniting and driving around town in the garbage truck, visiting the bar where Caroline works, and splitting up as Eastland and Caroline take the garbage truck to Caroline's apartment. Simultaneously, a Mafioso visits the gang's lair in another torch-lit ceremony and offers to sell them heroin, the gang tests a sample on a randomly kidnapped victim, and discover the location of Caroline's home by recognizing the garbage truck.
On a following day, Eastland and Caroline visit a park. The gang attacks Caroline when Eastland is distracted, beating her badly and breaking a leg. Eastland and Be Gee discuss crime later in that bar. The masked man appears in an alley and incinerates two more gangsters. Later on, Caroline and Eastland fight, and Eastland finally brings up vigilante justice with Be Gee. They arm themselves, ambush a group of gangsters in a park, and torture information out of one gangster. Eastland and Be Gee attack one of the gang's warehouses, only to discover that they were interrupting a drug sale between X and the Mafioso. In the ensuing firefight, Be Gee is killed by X, the Mafioso and his crew are blown up along with the money, and Eastland steals the heroin. In retaliation, the gang murders Caroline while Eastland mourns over Be Gee.
Vowing revenge, Eastland installs improvised armor on the garbage truck, while strapping machine guns and antitank rockets to the sides and top. A final showdown ensues in a factory, where Eastland kills most of the gangsters with the armored garbage truck, and incinerates the survivors with a flamethrower. X then chases Eastland around the factory, wounding him in the process and capturing the bag of heroin. The bag explodes, killing X, leaving Eastland to walk away alone from the wreckage.
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