MacGyver is visiting with Pinky Burnett, a silent film star who is showing MacGyver one of three silent black-and-white films he discovered in a trunk in his attic. As they watch, Pinky talks about his co-star Violet Meredith and how she disappeared once the talkies took over. He also mentions Carl Bankey, who worked with Pinky to develop the first movie special effects and retired after the talkies came out. MacGyver is there to get the three films so that the Phoenix Foundation can restore them and Pinky can show them and make enough money to keep his house. Bankey loved Violet and burned the negatives to get revenge on Pinky, who was involved with her.
As MacGyver starts to leave, two thieves wearing monster masks break in and demand the films. Pinky recognizes the leader's voice as Bankey, who knows Pinky. The thieves take the films and run to their truck, and the leader, Karl, uses a radio detonator to set off explosive squibs on the window, making it appear they're shooting. MacGyver ducks back and the thieves escape. MacGyver and Pinky examine the antique detonator, which has the logo of Pinky's old studio. Pinky explains that it's now a movie ranch and the thieves must have gone there, figuring Bankey will burn the films. MacGyver offers to help but discovers that the thieves have sabotaged the wheels of his jeep. Pinky gets his antique car out of storage and drives off with MacGyver in pursuit of the thieves.
As they approach the studio, the radiator blows out and MacGyver realizes the thieves sabotaged it. He figures they're walking into a trap but Pinky insists that they don't have time to call the police before Bankey burns the films. As they approach the movie ranch, Karl and his partner, Neil, watch them go. Karl is eager to get revenge on Pinky for cheating him and plans to make it seems that Pinky died in an accident.
MacGyver and Pinky find the truck but no sign of the missing reels. MacGyver goes to search and tells Pinky to stay with the truck. However, Pinky spots smoke from a building and goes to investigate it. As he enters, Karl shines a spotlight on the trunk, suspended atop a catwalk. Pinky climbs up to get the films. MacGyver returns and follows Pinky into the building. Karl closes the door by remote as MacGyver goes up to help Pinky. The silent film star opens the trunk and gets a face full of snakes tossed at him. He falls back and hangs from the catwalk, and MacGyver pulls him to safety. Realizing his first trap failed, Karl triggers an explosive charge and the catwalk plummets downward. MacGyver hangs onto the support and Pinky holds onto MacGyver. Using his Swiss Army knife stabbed through Pinky's wallet for support, MacGyver slides down a backdrop and lands safely on the ground.
As Pinky takes nitro pills for his heart, Karl lowers another trunk on a rope. MacGyver figures it's another trap but Pinky runs over and MacGyver goes after him. Karl drops a net on them and triggers a gas bomb in the trunk, knocking them unconscious. They wake up tied to railroad tracks in the middle of the desert. A train starts up in the distance as Pinky starts to have a heart seizure. The train comes at them as MacGyver kicks at the ground. He tells Pinky not to worry and the train passes harmlessly over them. The ground is fake and MacGyver has realized they're on a sound stage. The train is a fake platform with a headlight and sound effects. Karl realizes that he can't scare Pinky to death and turns on the lights. He and Neil go to get the prisoners and Karl explains that Carl Bankey and Violet Meredith were his parents. They married secretly to avoid ruining Violet's reputation as a pure-hearted heroine and Carl died a month before Karl was born. Karl accuses Pinky of swindling his parents by running up the debts on the studio, but Pinky insists it was Carl's obsession with expensive special effects that ruined everything. Karl angrily denies his claim and prepares to take more drastic measures.
The two crooks take Pinky and MacGyver to a large water tank. Karl boasts that once Pinky die, the film rights revert to Violet and her sole surviving family member, Karl. The criminals manacle MacGyver and Pinky into the water tank and pull the rope ladder out and drop it on the outside. The water is too high to stand and Karl figures that they'll eventually tire and drown. Then he can flush them out through the feed pipe into the Mojave River.
Once Karl and Neil leave, MacGyver tries to boost Pinky up to a suspended water hose. It breaks off so MacGyver ties the hose to his boot, throws it over the edge of the tank, and hooks the rope ladder. He pulls it back in and they climb to safety. Karl and Neil return a shot time later and discover that they've escaped. An exasperated Neil insists they should have just shot Pinky and Karl agrees.
MacGyver finds a hotel façade and decides to make a stand. Pinky, who is enjoying himself, goes out to distract the two crooks by planting a nail-studded board in the dirt and then standing on his head. When they drive toward him, they roll over the board and blow out their tires. Pinky runs over to the front of the hotel façade and joins MacGyver in surrendering, hands held high to either side of the entrance. When Neil and Karl approach them, MacGyver yanks on a rope and the façade collapses. MacGyver and Pinky are positioned in front of the windows so that they're unharmed while Neil and Karl are buried and knocked out.
Later, Pinky and MacGyver attend the films' premiere at the Paramount Theater. MacGyver comes outside and discovers Pinky nervously pacing back and forth, worried that the people are laughing at him. MacGyver assures him that the audience loves him and Pinky admits that he's got a major distribution deal and a role in an upcoming movie. Inside, the movie ends and the audience applauds.