The film follows the adventures of several arms dealers that compete to sell weapons to a South American dictator.
Eddie Muntz (Chase) is a small-time American arms dealer who talks his way into a job with a large defense corporation selling high-tech military unmanned aerial vehicles to a South American dictator (William Marquez). Muntz arrives in war-torn and impoverished "San Miguel" to sell weapons to both its leader and the rebels seeking his ouster.
In the middle of a sales pitch to the rebels, Muntz is caught in a firefight and is shot in the foot. Hobbling in a rundown hotel days later, Muntz meets Harold DeVoto (Wallace Shawn), a sales rep for the American defense contractor, Luckup.
Muntz peddles small arms (assault rifles, anti-personnel mines, and machine-pistols disguised as cassette tape players), whereas Luckup's product is more sophisticated—the Peacemaker UAV, a military dream that operates without pilots or airbases. But the military junta of San Miguel strings DeVoto along, driving the man to suicide. Muntz successfully takes over the deal and wins a contract worth millions.
On returning to America, he is angrily confronted at gunpoint by Catherine (Sigourney Weaver), Harold's widow. Demanding the contract, Catherine shoots Muntz instead, reopening the wound on his foot. Waking up in the hospital, Muntz is told by Frank Stryker (Vince Edwards), a Luckup executive, that San Miguel reneged on the deal after a distastrous and highly publicized demonstration of the Peacemaker.
Muntz nevertheless decides to help Luckup re-sign San Miguel. He is joined by his partner, Ray Kasternak (Gregory Hines), an ex-fighter pilot now undergoing a religious crisis of conscience, and also by Catherine. Muntz's efforts are complicated by tensions with Luckup, Ray's religious conversion, "The Peacemaker's" many technical glitches, and his own growing moral reservations.
On the eve of a major defense industry exposition, Muntz is visited by Massagi (Richard Libertini), an immensely wealthy arms merchant who both encourages him to finalize the San Miguel deal and coaches him on how to do it. Massagi reveals that the global arms industry has a stake in sales of weapons like the Peacemaker because they allow for localized and conventional wars that will keep their business viable into the next century. Massagi also explains how recent changes to federal law not only legalize bribes to foreign dictators, but make those bribes tax deductible. These revelations spur Muntz on, while also adding to his unease.
Muntz accompanies San Miguel's dictator to the weapons expo, where billions of dollars of high technology are displayed and demonstrated. To the dictators, Muntz disparages any warplanes he sees, reminding them of the obvious benefits of pilot-less aircraft.
While Muntz demonstrates some of his own wares (including a booby-trapped urinal), Ray hijacks one of the fighter jets being demonstrated, threatening to attack the expo, also daring them to attack him. Ray circles overhead as representatives for defense contractors bicker among themselves as to whose weapons are good enough to shoot him down.
Stryker takes matters into his own hands, launching the Peacemaker. This time, the UAV proves a much more formidable threat, and not even Ray can destroy it. Misusing all of the Peacemaker's weapons, however, Stryker instead destroys the entire expo. Before he can try again for Ray, Muntz uses his cane to shut off the Peacemaker's remote control panel, allowing Ray to destroy it.
In the final scene, we learn that Ray has left the arms industry to become a missionary. Muntz is also out of weapons trafficking, but still a salesman working at his brother's car dealership. He sells Catherine a car, and it's implied that they will be doing other deals together.Chevy Chase as Muntz
Gregory Hines as Ray
Sigourney Weaver as Catherine
Vince Edwards as Stryker
Wallace Shawn as Harold
Richard Libertini as Massagi
William Marquez as Gen. Cordosa
Eduardo Ricard as Col. Salgado
Richard Herd as Lyle
Graham Jarvis as Babers
Randi Brooks as Ms. Della Rosa
Ebbe Roe Smith as Bob
J.W. Smith as Will
Film critic Mike McGranaghan argued that Deal of the Century saw actor Chevy Chase breaking away from the types of films he was known for starring in by headlining a dark comedy satire about the military industrial complex.
The film was released theatrically in the United States by Warner Bros. on November 4, 1983. It grossed $10,369,581 million at the domestic box office.
The film was released on DVD by Warner Home Video in 2006. This version is currently out of print. It was eventually reissued by the Warner Archive Collection in 2014.
Deal of the Century was poorly received by critics, as the film holds a 13% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.