Frank White, a drug lord, is riding into New York in a limousine after being released from Sing Sing. Emilio El Zapa, a Colombian drug dealer, is shot dead and the killers leave a newspaper headline announcing Frank's release. Zapa's partner, King Tito, is in a hotel room with Jimmy Jump and Test Tube, who are negotiating the purchase of cocaine. Jimmy and Test Tube shoot Tito and his bodyguards and steal the cocaine.
Later, in a suite at the Plaza Hotel, Frank is greeted by Jimmy, Test Tube and other members of his gang, who welcome him home. Frank leaves to meet two of his lawyers, Joey Dalesio and Jennifer, for dinner. Frank expresses his desire to be mayor and asks Dalesio to set up a meeting with Mafia boss Arty Clay. He and Jennifer leave to take a ride on the subway. Confronted by muggers, Frank first brandishes his gun then gives them a wad of money, telling them to ask for him at the Plaza if they want work.
Dalesio goes to Little Italy, to set up a meeting with Clay but the Mafia don urinates on Dalesio's shoes and tells him it is a message for his boss. Frank, Jump and other members of the gang go to Clay's social club, where Frank tells Clay that he wants a percentage of all Clay's profits. When Clay insults him, Frank shoots the Mafioso. As he leaves, Frank tells Clay's men that they can all find employment at the Plaza.
The next night, Frank is confronted by Detectives Bishop, Gilley and Flanigan of the NYPD narcotics squad. They drive him to an empty lot where they show him the body of El Zapa in the trunk. When Frank refuses to confess, Gilley and Flanigan beat him and leave him in the lot. Frank sends Dalesio to Chinatown to make contact with Triad leader Larry Wong, who has $15 million worth of cocaine. Larry demands $3 million up front and another $500,000 after the drugs are sold. Frank counters that the two should team up, then split the profits evenly. Larry turns him down and demands that Frank decide immediately whether he wants to buy the drugs. Frank declines.
Jimmy Jump and several of Frank's lieutenants are arrested by Gilley and Flanigan, who reveal that one of Tito's bodyguards is alive and willing to testify. When Frank learns of his men's arrest, he orders his lawyers to arrange their release. They head to Chinatown, where they kill Larry and his gang and take the cocaine.
Gilley, Flanigan and other officers pose as drug dealers and bribe Dalesio into leading them to the nightclub where Frank and his men are partying. They burst in shooting, slaying several members of Frank's gang. Fleeing over the Queensboro Bridge, Frank and Jump trade shots with the police, killing all but Gilley and Flanigan. After evading their pursuers, the two men split up. Jump shoots Flanigan in the chest, puncturing his vest. Gilley kills Jump with a shot to the head. A few days later at Flanigan's funeral, Frank kills Gilley.
After his men kill Dalesio, Frank goes to Bishop's apartment, telling him that he has placed a $250,000 bounty on every detective involved in the case. Holding Bishop at gunpoint, Frank explains that he killed Tito, Larry, Arty Clay and Zapa because he disapproved of their involvement in human trafficking and child prostitution.
Frank forces Bishop to handcuff himself to a chair. As Frank heads to the subway, Bishop uses a hidden gun to free himself. Bishop corners Frank in a subway car. Frank shoots Bishop, killing him but the policeman is able to fire a last shot. In a taxi in Times Square, Frank realizes that he has been hit. As police officers surround the car, Frank closes his eyes and goes limp.Christopher Walken as Frank White
Laurence Fishburne as Jimmy Jump
David Caruso as Dennis Gilley
Victor Argo as Roy Bishop
Janet Julian as Jennifer
Wesley Snipes as Thomas Flanigan
Steve Buscemi as Test Tube
John Turturro as Eddie
Paul Calderón - Joey Dalesio
Giancarlo Esposito as Lance
Theresa Randle as Raye
Frank Adonis as Paul Calgari
Harold Perrineau as Subway Mugger
According to Ferrara, Donald Trump gave him permission to film at the Plaza Hotel on condition that Walken would pose for a photograph with Ivana Trump, who is a fan of the actor.
During the film's premiere at the New York Film Festival, many members of the audience, including Ferrara's wife, walked out of the theater. At the question-and-answer session that Ferrara held after the screening, the first question asked was, "This film is an abomination. Why aren't you giving the proceeds to some drug rehab program?" At a second showing of the film the next day, Larry Fishburne and Nicholas St. John were booed off the stage.
Mark Caro, writing for the Chicago Tribune, gave the movie only 1/2 star. He called King of New York "a film more interested in leaving impressions than spinning a smooth narrative", adding that star Christopher Walken and the movie remain "just out of grasp".
The film holds a 71% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 23 reviews.