Goddard Bolt (Mel Brooks) is the callous CEO of Bolt Enterprises. Bolt shows little regard for other people's needs or for the environment, and has his eye on the slum of Los Angeles so he can tear it down. Bolt makes a bet with his biggest rival, Vance Crasswell (Jeffrey Tambor), who also has an interest in the property, that he can survive on those streets for 30 days. Should Bolt lose, Crasswell owns the property, but should Bolt win, Crasswell will sell it for practically nothing.
There are three conditions: #1) Bolt will be completely penniless; #2) He must wear an electronic anklet that will activate if he leaves the boundaries, forfeiting the bet if he exceeds 30 seconds out of bounds; #3) At no time can he reveal to any of the slum area residents that he is Goddard Bolt. To add to the look, Bolt has his mustache shaved off, then Crasswell confiscates his toupee and rips the top pocket of his jacket.
Unbeknown to Bolt, Crasswell schemes to make Goddard's stay on the streets as bad as possible. Bolt, homeless, hungry and filthy, is befriended by skid-row inhabitants like Sailor (Howard Morris) and Fumes (Theodore Wilson) and given the nickname "Pepto" after falling asleep in a crate with a Pepto-Bismol logo on its side. In the process, he meets and eventually becomes attracted to Molly (Lesley Ann Warren), a homeless woman who used to be a dancer on Broadway. During a scuffle with two muggers, Bolt is pushed out of bounds, which activates his anklet. To prevent the "30-second forfeiture", Bolt rushes back in, which impresses Molly with his supposed bravery as it looks like he is tackling the muggers.
Bolt learns a series of important life lessons during his 'adventure', namely that life is not about accomplishments or material success but rather the integrity of the human spirit. However, Bolt is unaware that the unscrupulous Crasswell has no intention of honoring their bet. When Crasswell realizes Bolt is honoring the bet fair and square, Crasswell bribes Bolt's lawyers into fabricating the story that Bolt had lost his mind and has his property seized. Forced to live on the streets for good and remanded to a free clinic by mistake, a drugged Bolt murmurs that "life stinks", but Molly implores him to remember small things such as the two of them waltzing that make life livable. Crasswell, meanwhile has his own plans for the slum area, planning to tear it down as well. Bolt incites Fumes and the other slum residents to stage a mock battle on the ceremony while it is televised. Crasswell attempts to stop Bolt with a hydraulic excavator, to which Bolt fights Crasswell in another hydraulic excavator akin to "dinosaur fights". When Bolt's grapple has plucked Crasswell and has him hanging by his jacket, the scene is freeze-framed into a news report saying that Crasswell, in a court case, was forced to admit he made a bet with Bolt in order to get him to understand the slum conditions, then reneged on the terms. Bolt, now in control of the area, has plans to renovate it into the "Bolt Center" which will give the slum residents employment, renovate the tenements into livable homes and give the children a private school financed entirely out of pocket by Goddard Bolt. The news report ends by saying Bolt has married Molly and the press are expecting an extravagant CEO-type event, only to then be shown Goddard and Molly taking their wedding vows in a simple chapel in the slum area, then driving off in a limousine with a vanity plate "PEPTO".Mel Brooks as Goddard Bolt
Lesley Ann Warren as Molly
Jeffrey Tambor as Vance Crasswell
Stuart Pankin as Pritchard
Howard Morris as Sailor
Rudy De Luca as J. Paul Getty
Theodore Wilson as Fumes
Carmen Filpi as Pops (eleven's up)
Michael Ensign as Knowles
Matthew Faison as Stevens
Billy Barty as Willy
Brian Thompson as Mean Victor
Raymond O'Connor as Yo
Carmine Caridi as Flophouse Owner
Sammy Shore as Reverend at Wedding
Frank Roman as Spanish Interpreter
Christopher Birt as Paramedic
Larry Cedar as Paramedic
Robert Ridgely as Crasswell's Attorney
Whoopi Goldberg was initially considered for Lesley Ann Warren's role; however, Brooks was uncertain whether he could convincingly play her love interest.
The film was screened out of competition at the 1991 Cannes Film Festival.
In a rare turn of events for a Mel Brooks film, it was both a critical and commercial failure. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 19% of critics gave positive reviews based on 16 reviews. Praise did come from the fact that Brooks attempted a different type of satire rather than rehashing spoofs. The film underperformed at the box office grossing $4,102,526 domestically, under its $13 million budget. It has since gained a cult following for being an experimental film by Brooks, as opposed to his usual parodies. In addition, it received three stars from Roger Ebert.