Meshing both true-life terror and fictional drama, Spike Lee adroitly recreates a summer steeped in unmitigated violence and reckless sex. The year is 1977. The disco rage is slowly giving way to a more subversive scene, cocaine is the drug of choice, and New York City cowers in the blood-soaked wake of a relentless serial shooter: David Berkowitz, Son of Sam. This is the darkside of life . . . and Spike Lee pulls no punches.
Scattered between the unraveling marriage of fictional couple Vinny and Dionna are fleeting glimpses of David Berkowitz's psychosis-plagued mind. While Berkowitz methodically patrols the streets in search of his next victim, Vinny struggles with the issue of fidelity. Upon narrowly escaping Berkowitz's wrath, Vinny questions his unscrupulous lifestyle. What follows is Vinny's half-hearted attempt to tame his wild libido.
Intertwined in this saga, Vinny's neighborhood friend Ritchie returns home from a journey of self-discovery. Having dramatically altered his appearance from "average American male" to non-conformist punk-rocker, Ritchie's introduction sparks a dramatic subplot. Like Berkowitz, Ritchie represents a person teetering on society's edge. Though benign, Ritchie's punk-style and philosophical musings quickly generate hostility in his old neighborhood . . . especially among Ritchie's "friends." Acting on machismo, these men (including an unwitting Vinny) begin conspiring against Ritchie. Oblivious to the treachery, Ritchie gently cultivates his blossoming relationship with local girl Ruby, continues his work as a male exotic dancer, and strives to make a name for his punk-rock band.
Following another series of shootings, city tension soars. Everyone is suspect. Upon release of a police sketch, Ritchie is targeted by the neighborhood men as the shooter . . . even though only some of Ritchie's features resemble that in the sketch.
In a spectacular, high-paced conclusion, Vinny's marriage crumbles when a former lover confesses all to Dionna, Ritchie's relationship with Ruby flowers as the couple pack to leave the city, and Berkowitz is apprehended by the N.Y.P.D.
Nonetheless, Lee's film does not conclude on this melodious note. Unaware of Berkowitz's apprehension, the local men ambush Ritchie outside his home. The misguided brutes mercilessly beat Ritchie to a bloody mess and are only stopped by his gun-toting stepfather. With Berkowitz's capture revealed, the men leave the scene, and a barely coherent Ritchie lies in the street. Ruby and Ritchie's parents gather to soothe him as they await the arrival of an ambulance.