The film portrays friends Marvin 'Shake' Tiller and Billy Clyde Puckett as two football buddies who play for a team owned by Big Ed Bookman called the "Miami Bucks". Bookman's daughter Barbara Jane Bookman roommates with both men, and the film depicts a subtle love triangle relationship between Barbara Jane and her two friends. She initially has romantic feelings for Kristofferson's character, who has become more self-confident after taking self-improvement training from seminar leader Friedrich Bismark. Friedrich Bismark's training program is called Bismark Earthwalk Action Training, or B.E.A.T. After Shake completes his B.E.A.T. course, he and Barbara Jane sleep together and start a relationship. Barbara Jane is not a follower of B.E.A.T., and Shake is warned by his leader Bismark that "Mixed marriages don't work".
Barbara Jane is determined to make it work with Shake, so she attends B.E.A.T. in an effort to "get it". At the end of the training session, she is worn out from Bismark's "sadistic abuse, pious drivel and sheer double talk". Barbara Jane also feels guilty that she did not "get it". Shake is insistent that the training has had proven results for him, noting that he has not missed a football pass since completing B.E.A.T. Billy Clyde Puckett also has feelings for Barbara Jane Bookman, and enrolls in B.E.A.T. in order to understand what she is going through. While participating in the training, Billy Clyde is shown coping with the seminar rules forbidding going to the bathroom during the training. For a time Puckett pretends he underwent a conversion to Bismark's way of thinking. While Barbara Jane and Shake are at the altar about to be married, the minister turns to Friedrich Bismark and gives him some advice on how he can avoid capital gains tax in his business. Billy Clyde Puckett ends up exposing the movement's shallow side, and rescues Barbara Jane from both B.E.A.T. and her impending marriage to Shake. After leaving the wedding together, Barbara Jane and Billy Clyde Puckett reveal their feelings for each other.
Semi-Tough is a 1977 film directed by Michael Ritchie and starring Burt Reynolds, Kris Kristofferson, Jill Clayburgh, Lotte Lenya, Bert Convy, and Brian Dennehy. The plot involves a love triangle between the characters portrayed by Reynolds, Kristofferson and Clayburgh. Semi-Tough also includes a parody of Werner Erhard's Erhard Seminars Training (est), depicted in the film as an organization called "B.E.A.T." The film is based on the novel Semi-Tough, by Dan Jenkins, and was adapted for the screen by writer Walter Bernstein and director Michael Ritchie. Ritchie and Bernstein added a new storyline which included a satire of the self-help movement and new religions.