Bernice "Bernie" Rhodenbarr, a former San Francisco burglar, resumes her life of crime when a corrupt police officer named Ray Kirschman blackmails her.
A dentist, Dr. Cynthia Sheldrake, hires Bernice to break into her ex-husband Christopher's home and steal back her jewelry. Things take a turn for the worse when Christopher is murdered while Bernie is robbing his home, and thanks to Sheldrake and her lawyer Carson, Bernie is the only suspect.
To clear her name Bernice and her friend Carl hop from bar to bar looking for someone who knew Christopher. They find out that Christopher had quite a few girlfriends ... and boyfriends. Bernice has three new suspects after an old flame of Christopher's tells her about an artist, a bartender, and a mysterious man known only by his nickname: "Heeeeeeere's Johnny!"
Bernice investigates the artist and the bartender only to have them show up dead. With no clues or witnesses, Bernice waits for Dr. Sheldrake in her home to confront her. Demanding she tell her everything she knew about Christopher, she concludes that the doctor herself had been with her ex the night he was murdered.
During the conversation the TV flashes to an episode of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. Bernice realizes Carson knew the doctor's ex. Bernice calls Carson to meet her in the park with the bag of jewelry Bernice was commissioned to steal in the first place. Bernie has also deduced that Carson was in love with Christopher himself. A scuffle ensues and Bernice, along with her friend Carl and Ray, capture Carson.
The film was adapted from the 1978 novel The Burglar in the Closet by Lawrence Block; in Block's book, Bernie Rhodenbarr is a white man. It was also the first R-rated and live-action production from the Canadian animation company, Nelvana.
In a 2013 interview with Kevin Smith, screenwriter Jeph Loeb disclosed that Burglar was initially intended to be a serious vehicle for Bruce Willis with Whoopi Goldberg filling the role of the character's neighbor. (The film was based on is the second of a long-running series of Novels about a professional burglar, Bernard "Bernie" Rhodenbar.) When Willis dropped out, Goldberg took on the lead role.
Whoopi Goldberg as Bernice Rhodenbarr
Bobcat Goldthwait as Carl Hefler
G.W. Bailey as Ray Kirschman
Lesley Ann Warren as Dr. Cynthia Sheldrake
James Handy as Carson Verrill
Anne De Salvo as Detective Todras
John Goodman as Detective Nyswander
Elizabeth Ruscio as Frankie
Vyto Ruginis as K.E. Graybow
Larry Mintz as Vincent 'Knobby' DiCarno
Raye Birk as The Jogger
Eric Poppick as Deliveryman
Scott Lincoln as Man in Cadillac
Thom Bray as Shoplifter in Bookstore
Critical reception was largely negative. Roger Ebert described the film as "a witless, hapless exercise in the wrong way to package Goldberg. This is a woman who is original. Who is talented. Who has a special relationship with the motion picture comedy. It is criminal to put her into brain-damaged, assembly-line thrillers."