Jack Issel (Judge Reinhold) is a natural-born slacker who has just graduated from business school and joined I.N.C., a large American corporation based in Chicago. On his trip up the corporate ladder, he sees the dirty underside of the corporate world and how it corrupts people. His two mentors, the stuffy and buttoned up chief financial officer Scott Dantley (Michael O'Donoghue) and the chief operating officer Bob Nixon (Ron Frazier), in fact, show him first-hand how to cheat and blackmail one's way to the top. Jack is further aided by his personnel officer Max Landsberger (Richard Masur) who tells Jack that money and power come before people in the corporate world. Jack's supervisor and the public relations vice president, Jane Caldwell (Jane Seymour), also tells Jack exactly the same thing as Jack learns that Jane is a shady vixen who's hell-bent on sleeping her way to the top by seducing every man she meets to get ahead in what she sees as a man's world.
Unsure of his abilities, and often incompetent, Jack can't figure out why he keeps getting promoted. Could it have something to do with his father (George Coe) being an influential (but corrupt) Senator?
Among the numerous subplots, Jack meets and falls in love with a young woman named Rachel (Lori-Nan Engler), who turns out to be the radical, left-wing daughter of the ruthless chairman of the board and CEO, Pete Helmes (Eddie Albert), who is revealed to be promoting Jack so he can gain Jack's father, Senator Issel's support to close down a textile plant in a small upstate town called Allenville, and move it into the Latin American country of San Marcos for company self-interest. Jack spends the rest of the movie trying to stop I.N.C. from closing down the plant, and trying to win Rachel's heart to prove that he can be a good businessman.
This film has a surprisingly strong supporting cast in the many interrelated and unrelated subplots who include such established stars as Danny DeVito, an inside trader named Frank Stedman, and Rick Moranis, a screaming burnout executive named Howard Gross, who have roles in the first 20 minutes of the movie that are little more than cameos. Other subplots include an executive named Mike Hoover (Wallace Shawn), another burnout who learns he is dying from an unknown terminal illness and everyone, including his coke-sniffing best friend Al Kennedy (Bruce Wagner), is trying to maneuver into his job as head of the Latin American division. John Hudson (Merritt Butrick) is also a recent recruit at I.N.C. and one of Jack Issel's classmates who resorts to trickery to get ahead in the business.
Midway through the movie, most of the subplots end without a resolution and the rest of the movie focuses entirely on the Jack-Rachel situation. Within a week of his employment, the further promoted Jack, with Max in tow, travel upstate to the town of Allenville to give a press conference on the closing of the textile plant where Rachel has organized a huge protest of thousands of workers and townspeople protesting the closing of the plant. The mob of townspeople attack and destroy Jack and Max's limousine, much to the chagrin of the company limo driver Sal (Don Novello). At the same time, to impress Rachel, rather than tell a fabricated public relations story about the closing of the plant, Jack tells the truth to the reporters about I.N.C. reasons which are entirely of self-interest, while both the enraged Helmes and Jack's father watch the event on their TV sets. This does win over Rachel's affections and that night, she and Jack spend the night together.
The following morning, while Helmes decides to fire Jack, he sees that Jack's actions have drawn nationwide media attention whom hail Jack Issel as an honest businessman. Helmes changes his mind about firing Jack and invites him to his house that weekend where Jack runs into Rachel again and finally learns that she is Helmes' daughter. Helmes tries to win over Jack's loyalty to I.N.C. by inviting him to a dinner reception at the council offices of a fictitious Latin American country of San Marcos where a dinner reception is taking place where Jack is expected to give a $2 million bribe to a political rival of the San Marcos dictator General Sanchez as another I.N.C. ploy to win the support of the dictatorship government for further business proposes.
At the reception, Jack sneaks Rachel into the building where they finally learn the truth about Helmes plans for Jack, as well as his plans for I.N.C.'s business with the country of San Marcos. Stealing the suitcase with the $2 million cash-bribe money, Jack and Rachel flee from the building security forces in a climatic chase and escape from the building and expose I.N.C.'s plans to the press. As a result, the textile plant in Allenville is saved, Pete Helmes is forced to resign from I.N.C. in disgrace, and Jack and Rachel both inherit the majority of I.N.C. stockholder shares.
The final scene has Jack, now the new chairman of the board at I.N.C., traveling in Pete Helmes helicopter, to the offices with Sal as his pilot.
The film was largely filmed in Toronto, Ontario, part of a growing trend in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s of making American films there. Scenes were also filmed in nearby Oshawa, Ontario at the Parkwood Mansion which doubled as the mansion residence of Pete Helmes.