Michael Cromwell is a self-absorbed, successful commodities broker living in New York City. Wanting to marry his fiancée, Charlotte (Lolita Davidovich), he needs to obtain a final divorce from his first wife, Patricia, who left him some years earlier; she now lives with a semi-Westernised tribe in Canaima National Park in Venezuela. He travels there to get her signature on divorce papers, but upon arriving, he discovers he has a 13-year-old son named Mimi-Siku.
Michael attempts to bond with Mimi in his brief stay with the tribe, and promises to take him to New York "when he is a man". That night, he undergoes the tradition rite of passage of his tribe, who then consider him to be a man. The tribal elder gives him a special task, which is to allow him to become a tribal leader one day. He must bring fire from the Statue of Liberty, and looks forward to traveling with his father. Against his protests, Michael brings him to New York.
Charlotte is less than pleased about the unexpected visitor, particularly at his loin cloth outfit. Matters only worsen when Mimi tries to go to the bathroom in front of her at the fake tree (as is the custom in his tribe), suggests eating her cat, Coco, and releases his pet tarantula, Maitika, in her apartment. He wears traditional dress during much of his stay in New York. As Michael attempts to adapt him to city life, cross-cultural misunderstandings occur when he reverts to customs considered acceptable by his tribe. On climbing the Statue of Liberty to reach the flame, he is disappointed when he sees that it's not real.
While staying at the home of Michael's partner, Richard Kempster, Mimi falls in love with his daughter, Karen. He paints her face, and gives her a new name, Ukume, as is the custom in his tribe. Richard is unhappy about Mimi's presence in his home because of his influence over Karen, as well as cooking and eating his prize-winning fish. He freaks out when he sees Mimi and Karen sleeping together in a hammock and shows his feelings of anger by threatening to send Karen to an all-girls summer camp, which she immediately takes a disliking to. When her little brother, Andrew (Frankie J. Galasso), hears about this, he grins and says, "First dibs on Ukume's room."
It is soon revealed that the Kempsters and Michael are being targeted by Alexei Jovanovic, a Russian mobster and caviar dealer, who believes that they have cheated him in a business deal. He arrives at the Kempsters' house, intent on cutting off Richard's fingers in revenge. By fighting together and utilizing Mimi's hunting skills (and Maitika), the two families are able to defeat the mobsters.
Mimi returns home to Venezuela, but before he leaves, Michael gives him a satellite phone, so they can stay in touch. He also presents him with a Statue of Liberty cigarette lighter, which produces a flame from the torch and will fulfill his quest. In return, Mimi gives Michael a blow dart gun with poisoned darts, telling him to practice and come to see him when he can hit flies.
Shortly afterwards, Michael finds himself disheartened by the rat race, and realizes that his relationship with Charlotte is not working for him anymore. He attempts to kill a fly with his blow dart gun on the trading floor of the New York Board of Trade. He not only hits it, but also his boss George Langston, who collapses.
Michael returns to Venezuela to see Mimi and Patricia, while also bringing the Kempsters with him for a vacation. Karen and Mimi are reunited, and it is implied that Michael and Patricia also resume their relationship.
- Tim Allen as Michael Cromwell
- Martin Short as Richard Kempster
- Sam Huntington as Mimi-Siku Cromwell
- JoBeth Williams as Patricia Cromwell
- Lolita Davidovich as Charlotte
- David Ogden Stiers as Alexei Jovanovic
- Bob Dishy as George Langston
- Valerie Mahaffey as Jan Kempster
- Leelee Sobieski as Karen Kempster
- Frankie J. Galasso as Andrew Kempster
- Avalos Luis Avalos as Abe
- Carole Shelley as Fiona
- Dominic Keating as Ian
- Reed Rondi Reed as Sarah
- Oni Faida Lampley as Madeleine