In Los Angeles a young black woman named Fantasia (Cynda Williams), her lover Ray Malcolm (Billy Bob Thornton) and their cohort Lenny “Pluto” Franklin (Michael Beach) attack some of her friends who have some information about a drug dealer in the area. Ray holds one of them hostage at gunpoint having the man act like he needs a fix from the dealer to gain access to his house. After forcing his way inside Ray immediately threatens to set the dealer’s girlfriend on fire if he doesn’t give up the whereabouts of his dope. When Ray finds the stash of cash and cocaine he contacts Pluto who proceeds to kill the witnesses who are still bound and gagged at the other home. They decide to take the drugs and head to Houston, Texas where they’ll sell it to one of Pluto’s friends.
When the police discover the murders they start a manhunt for Ray, Fantasia and Pluto. After getting a tip that Ray is originally from Star City, Arkansas they assume he may be headed there and alert the town’s sheriff Dale “Hurricane” Dixon (Bill Paxton) about what’s going on. Dixon’s life in the sleepy country town doesn’t give him much excitement so when he learns about the brutal crime, he looks forward to working on a big homicide case. Two detectives from L.A., Dud Cole (Jim Metzler) and John McFeely (Earl Billings) later arrive in Star City and are immediately surprised by the exuberant Dixon who introduces himself while driving next to them on the road, nearly hitting an oncoming truck in the process. Dixon is a bit of a goof but someone that everyone likes and is a genuinely good soul. He clearly looks up to the detectives who he sees as big city heroes and makes them welcome by showing them around and inviting them over to his home for a BBQ.
Meanwhile Ray, Fantasia and Pluto make their way to Houston but run intro trouble when they’re pulled over by a state trooper who becomes suspicious after noticing them at a convenience store. The trooper calmly questions Fantasia who’s driving but Ray suddenly becomes agitated and is ordered along with Pluto to exit the car. Before the cop can do anything, Lila shoots him point blank causing quite an outburst from Ray who clearly hates the police. When the three finally get to Houston to meet Pluto’s connection they’re informed he’s not even there. Against Ray’s wishes, Fantasia decides to take some money and goto Star City by herself (where she’s also from) while Ray and Pluto wait for his friend to complete the drug deal, after which they’ll travel there and pick her up.
As Dud and McFeely investigate matters further, Dale admits to them that he actually knows Fantasia whose real name is Lila Walker. He explains how he had arrested her for a petty theft years earlier before she dissapeared from town. Dale and the detectives then visit Lila’s relatives to get some tips and they meet her young son. It’s clear from Dale’s reaction upon seeing the boy something makes him uncomfortable. When Fantasia/Lila arrives back in town we learn that she and Dale were more than mere acquaintances.
One False Move, co-written by star Billy Bob Thornton, was set to be a straight to video release but was exceptional in how it surpassed the trappings of its modest budget. After it was shown on the film circuit there was quite a buzz and popular critics including Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel praised it as being one of the best films of 1992. All the actors brought such an authenticity to their roles elevating it from another forgettable B-film to an indie classic. Billy Bob Thornton’s portrayal of Ray is one of his best performances. He gives the character such a scummy depth that is both repulsive and memorable. Michael Beach’s Pluto looks like a college professor on the surface but he’s actually a calculating stone cold killer. Cynda Williams’ sensual depiction of Lila along with Bill Paxton’s high falutin’ good ol boy Dale Dixon act as the counterbalance. The film’s shocking violence juxtaposed with moments of humor are a trademark mixture we’d see again in Billy Bob Thornton’s next indie hit Sling Blade.