The film opens in Colombia with an American engineer named Harry Burck (Mark Harmon) on hand to oversee the opening of a water pipeline built by his company. Harry becomes embroiled in a kidnapping when a group of rebels arrives to kidnap an American diplomat who is on hand for the pipe’s unveiling.
Word of the kidnapping reaches back to Harry’s brother Corey (Michael Schoeffling) and his friends Bob (Thomas F. Wilson), cocaine addict Spence (Glenn Frey) and Kurt (Rick Rossovich), who were all awaiting Harry’s return home to Illinois. The men, all coworkers at the same factory, learn that Harry was kidnapped by a drug lord named Carlos Ochobar. Corey and Bob travel to Washington, D.C. to seek assistance from the U.S. government, only to be rebuffed and told that the government is not going to mount any rescue attempt for Harry. We learn that the men hold Harry in high regard, and that Harry’s father, Harry Burck, Sr. (Ben Johnson), is despondent over the kidnapping of his son.
Kurt reminds his friends that they all owe Harry something, so he says their only choice is to rescue him themselves. Despite some resistance and skepticism from Kurt and Spence, all the men eventually agree to go. Before heading to Colombia, they enlist the financial help of a local car salesman named Jack (Gary Busey), who insists on going along as a condition of funding the rescue, and the military expertise of a decorated no-nonsense mercenary named Norman Shrike (Robert Duvall).
Once in Colombia, the group encounters resistance from the start, both from local officials and from the U.S. government. They eventually land in jail after being set up by one of Shrike’s contacts who was supposedly going to supply them with weapons. The group is handed over to U.S. officials and put on a plane back home. The group manages to escape the plane at the last minute, but Kurt decides he has had enough and he stays behind on the plane in order to return home.
The group continues on without him, and resumes their trek toward Ochobar’s camp. Eventually, they are engaged by rebels, and Shrike is killed in a firefight while saving one of the men’s life. The group ventures on with the help of a local woman, Veronica, (Elpidia Carrillo), and they eventually find Ochobar’s hideout. In the ensuing shootout with Ochobar’s men, Jack is killed. The group is able to save Harry and then escape, destroying Ochobar’s camp in the process.
Harry and the men return home to a hero’s welcome in Illinois. Kurt, who had refused to continue on with the rescue, is shown emotionally waiting for the group to return. We see that the group holds no hard feelings towards Kurt, and they all triumphantly embrace.