Harvey, a self-doubting private investigator, plans to marry his girlfriend until he is hired to solve an adultery case and discovers the adulterer is cheating with his fiancée. Lost and dejected, Harvey quits his job and wallows in booze and the occasional odd blind date. Meanwhile, Katia, a Jewish woman from St. Petersburg, arrives in Sydney after answering an ad from an international matchmaking agency. But instead of love, she finds her prospective groom dead on arrival.
In this riot of frantic disguises and mistaken identities, Victor Pivert, a blustering, bigoted French factory owner, finds himself taken hostage by Slimane, an Arab rebel leader. The two dress up as rabbis as they try to elude not only assasins from Slimane's country, but also the police, who think Pivert is a murderer. Pivert ends up posing as Rabbi Jacob, a beloved figure who's returned to France for his first visit after 30 years in the United States. Adding to the confusion are Pivert's dentist-wife, who thinks her husband is leaving her for another woman, their daughter, who's about to get married, and a Parisian neighborhood filled with people eager to celebrate the return of Rabbi Jacob.
A hardcore US racist skinhead who, because of his intelligence, leads a gang dedicated to fighting the enemy: the supposed American-Jewish conspiracy for domination. However, he's hiding a secret: he's Jewish-born, a brilliant scholar whose questioning of the tenets of his faith has left him angry and confused, turning against those who he thinks have a tragic history of their own making.
Avalon is the third in Levinson's semi-autobiographical series of four "Baltimore Films": Diner (1982), Tin Men (1987), Avalon (1990), and Liberty Heights (1999). The film is set in Baltimore in the early 1950s and explores the themes of Jewish assimilation into American life.
The film is notable for presenting a more human Jesus, compared to more solemn portrayals in earlier films; here Jesus laughs and cries like anyone else. Among other things, he weeps at Joseph’s funeral, throws stones in Lake Galilee when meeting Simon Peter and James son of Zebedee for the first time, dances at the wedding at Cana, and starts a water-splashing fight with his disciples as well. Satan is portrayed as a man in modern dress (and as a woman in red). During his temptation of Jesus, he shows him the Earth from the vantage point of space. Satan also shows Jesus images of wars and destruction carried out in his name. The film adds an apocryphal Roman historian named “Livio” who watches and comments as events unfold; he is presumably named after Livy.