Michael Cromwell is a self-absorbed, successful commodities broker living in New York City. Wanting to marry his new fiancée Charlotte (Lolita Davidovich), he needs to obtain a final divorce from his first wife, Patricia who left him some years earlier. Patricia now lives with a semi-Westernised tribe in Canaima National Park, Venezuela. Michael travels there to get her signature on divorce papers, but, upon arriving, discovers he has a 13-year-old son, Mimi-Siku.
Michael attempts to bond with Mimi-Siku in his brief stay with the tribe, and promises to take him to New York 'when he is a man'. That night, Mimi-Siku undergoes the tradition rite of passage of his tribe, who then consider him to be a man. The tribal elder gives Mimi a special task, to allow him to become a tribal leader one day. Mimi must bring fire from the Statue of Liberty, and looks forward to traveling with his father. Against his protests, Michael brings Mimi-Siku to New York with him.
Michael's fiancee, Charlotte, is less than pleased about the unexpected visitor, particularly at his loin cloth outfit. Matters only worsen when Mimi-Siku 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 and releases his enormous pet tarantula in her apartment. Mimi-Siku wears traditional dress during much of his stay in New York. As Michael attempts to adapt Mimi-Siku to city life, cross-cultural misunderstandings occur when Mimi-Siku reverts to customs considered acceptable by his tribe. On climbing the Statue of Liberty to reach the flame, Mimi-Siku is disappointed when he sees that the fire is not real.
While staying at the home of Michael's partner, Richard Kempster, Mimi-Siku falls in love with Richard's 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 together in a hammock and shows his feelings of anger by threatening to send Karen to an all-girls summer camp, which Karen immediately takes a disliking to. When Karen's 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 Cromwell are being targeted by Jovanovic, a Russian mobster and caviar dealer, who believes that they have cheated him in a business deal. Jovanovic arrives at the Kempsters', intent on removing Richard's fingers in revenge. By fighting together and utilizing Mimi-Siku's hunting skills (and pet spider) the two families are able to defeat the mobsters.
Mimi-Siku returns to the Amazon jungle, but before he leaves, his father gives him a satellite phone, so they can stay in touch. Michael also presents Mimi with a Statue of Liberty cigarette lighter, which produces fire from the torch and will fulfill Mimi's quest. In return, Mimi gives his father a blowpipe and poisoned darts, telling Michael to practice and come to see him when he can hit flies.
Shortly afterwards, Michael finds himself disheartened by the rat-race and realises that his relationship with Charlotte is not working for him anymore. He attempts to kill a fly with his blowpipe, on the trading floor of the New York Board of Trade. He not only hits the fly, but also his boss, who collapses asleep on the trading floor.
Michael returns to Lipo-Lipo to see his son and ex-wife, while also bringing the Kempster family 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 Dr. 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
The film is an American remake of the successful French movie Un indien dans la ville or Little Indian, Big City. The plot follows the original fairly closely, except that the original was set in Paris rather than New York, and Mimi-Siku climbed the Eiffel Tower rather than the Statue of Liberty.