Passed over at work and numbed after she witnesses a colleague's murder, security guard Trixie Zurbo (Emily Watson) takes what promises to be a relatively easy job at a lakefront casino, working undercover keeping an eye out for pickpockets. Here, Trixie meets an assortment of colorful regulars: Kirk Stans (Nathan Lane), the casino's lounge act who drinks too much and is a dead-on mimic; Ruby Pearli (Brittany Murphy), a glamorous, young and knowledgeable barfly; and Dex Lang (Dermot Mulroney), a raffish ladies' man who pays attention to Trixie in a way that's hard for her to ignore.
In the casino, Trixie tells Kirk her philosophy on detective work, "You've got to grab the bull by the tail and look it in the eye," Later in a chance meeting at the local diner, Dex invites Trixie to spend a day with him, "When's the last time you had a really good time?" he purrs. Dex takes Trixie onto a yacht belonging to his boss, Red Rafferty (Will Patton), a brutal, corrupt resort developer. Red unexpectedly shows up with a party: the DeFlore brothers, Red's two hulking henchmen; Dawn Sloane (Lesley Ann Warren), a strung-out, never-was lounge singer; and the high-powered State Senator, Drummond Avery (Nick Nolte). After Trixie rejects Red's advances and stands up to him in front of his guests, Red orders Trixie off the boat, and Dex motors her back to shore.
Back at the casino Trixie asks Kirk about the characters she met on the boat. Intrigued, she tells him "I'd love to be an eardropper on the wall when they're talking." She returns home to find Dex waiting in front of her cabin. He's quit working for Red. Dex makes his feelings for Trixie passionately clear. The two tumble into bed, but are interrupted by the DeFlore brothers who kick down the door of the cabin. The two thugs brutalize Dex, demanding to know the whereabouts of Dawn Sloane and "the tape." Dex doesn't talk.
From his hospital bed, Dex urges Trixie to find Dawn. Ruby Pearli also shows up at the hospital and reveals to Trixie that both she and Dawn had been involved with Dex in the past. Trixie sets off on what she feels to be her first real "case." She tracks down a barely coherent Dawn at a hotel in the nearby state capitol. She's been drinking and downing pills. Dawn commissions Trixie to demand $50,000 from Senator Avery in exchange for "the tape," the content of which is still unknown to Trixie.
Unsure of what she's getting herself into, Trixie locates Senator Avery in the state capitol's premier watering hole, the Forum Club. She awkwardly seats herself at the senator's table and announces that she knows all about the tape. The senator is nonplussed. Their conversation defines miscommunication.
Trixie nervously drives back to Dawn's hotel where she discovers that Dawn has apparently jumped-or been pushed-to her death. She sees detectives collecting evidence-including a large ornate earring-and then overhears a bellboy describe to the cops the woman whom he saw earlier going into Dawn's room. She knows she is now the prime suspect.
Bent on avenging Dawn's death, Dex takes Trixie to Dawn's mountain hideaway, where they find Dawn's tape: a video of a drunk Senator Avery having a sexual escapade with a partially naked Dawn. Moments later Dex and Trixie are caught in a brutal gunfight with the DeFlore brothers. Dex survives, but he's badly wounded. The pain of his injury is compounded when Dex's elderly parents arrive to shepherd him home. Dex makes a plea for Trixie to come with him. She says she "can't go back to square zero." Trixie is at an emotional crossroads and it's too late to turn around now. Dex understands.
Still wanted by the police as a suspect in Dawn's murder, Trixie is now on her own: both to clear her name and to solve the case. She first squares off against Red, who convinces her that, while he may be contemptible, he didn't murder Dawn.
Sure now that the murderer is Avery, Trixie works out a plan with Ruby and Kirk. They make an audio tape, using Kirk's uncanny mimicry skills. Kirk "reenacts" a scene between Avery and Dawn, a forged record of the moment when Avery threw the singer to her death.
While Ruby keeps Avery occupied at his usual table in the Forum Club, Trixie slips the "evidence" into the club's sound system. The murderous scene is audible for all to hear. But, true to form, Avery is not thrown. With an almost eerie calm, Avery commands the troopers to pursue Trixie. Mouthing almost impenetrable campaign-style, political double-talk, he sweeps through the crowd and camera crews and makes his way out of the club. As his Chrysler pulls forward to pick him up, a Forum Club employee in a chef's hat steps forward and startles Avery, pointing a gun right at his chest. It's Trixie.
In the end, Trixie does uncover the truth, but the result of her sleuthing is not what she expected. And perhaps Trixie's most important discovery is her newly enlarged sense of herself.
"That's the truth, the hole in the truth and nothing but the truth."
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