Six-year-old Ben Archer watches silently as his father starts up his car and drives away with his secretary, and they both offer only a wave out the window in parting. His mother, Sandy (Farrah Fawcett), can only watch heartbroken from the window of their house as her ex-husband leaves them. Ben’s father promised to visit him, yet never comes back. They’re both upset, but they decide to have a fresh start, so they move into a downtown loft apartment to begin a new life with just the two of them. Sandy makes creative efforts to turn it into a home for them. They gradually overcome his father leaving and foster a very close bond with important rituals and routines, including making a collage with beach debris. Sandy develops an interest in dating, but her suitors never fit well and don’t last long, which allows Ben’s ideal relationship with his mother to resume. Five years later, however, Sandy decides she’s ready for marriage again, and begins seriously dating U.S. Attorney Jack Sturges (Chevy Chase).
In the Seattle Federal Court House, Jack successfully prosecutes criminal Frank Renda for drug trafficking. Before being sentenced to fifty years in federal prison at Sheridan, Frank makes a veiled threat of revenge towards Sturges. After court is adjourned, Frank’s son Joey rephrases the threat in a more intimidating manner, but Jack doesn’t back down and then dismisses him entirely.
Sandy and Jack discuss his moving in, of which eleven-year-old Ben (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) does not approve despite his mother’s reassurance that it’s only a trial period. Jack is confident he can win him over, telling Sandy he has read every book on step-parenting he could find. The transition does not go smoothly for Ben, as he resentfully feels he is the one suffering all of the adjustments and that his mother is making the same mistake she made with his father, so he resorts to ensuring Jack is as uncomfortable and unwelcome as possible. Jack tries taking the subterfuge in stride, not realizing it is deliberate, but his efforts to connect with the boy are met with irritation as he only succeeds in disrupting Ben’s customary lifestyle.
After meeting a boy named Norman Bronski at school, Ben feigns interest in joining the Indian Guides – a father-son “tribe” called the Minotauks – with Jack to secretly drive a wedge between them and get rid of him. Despite reluctance, Jack goes along with it at Sandy’s insistence. Neither of them like the club, but Ben manages to effectively humiliate Jack at the meetings. Once it starts interfering with his job, Jack tells Sandy he can no longer be part of it. Ben fakes distress by this and compares it to his father leaving to turn Sandy against her boyfriend. Jack goes to apologize, and instead overhears Ben bragging about everything over the phone to his best friend Monroe. Although he is disheartened by this revelation, Jack doesn’t tell Sandy about it and instead seeks advice from fellow stepfather Chet Bronski (George Wendt). He then redoubles his efforts to bond with Ben by improving the Indian Guides.
Just as Jack starts to strengthen his relationship with Ben, Joey’s threat catches up with him: his brakes are cut, almost killing him and causing him to miss an important canoe trip he promised to attend. Ben, having finally opened up, is genuinely hurt by this perceived betrayal to the point of tears, as it brings up bad memories of his father’s broken promises. Jack conceals the truth and refuses his boss’s order to transfer to Portland, Oregon so he can redeem himself to Ben in an upcoming camping trip. His initial attempts are unsuccessful, and he feels the situation is hopeless. Joey and his two thugs are then discovered in the woods with rifles, and Jack confesses the truth behind his “car trouble.” He sends the rest of the Indian Guides to the ranger station while he and Ben improvise to distract the criminals. The pair is eventually cornered in front of an abandoned mine shaft entrance rigged with dynamite, until they’re rescued by the Minotauks and the crooks are disabled. Ben is impressed and finally gives his approval of Jack and consents to Jack proposing to Sandy. The two complete the beach collage, which symbolizes that the three of them are finally whole as a family. Jack and Sandy marry, with the Minotauks in attendance of the wedding, and despite nothing being perfect, all are happy.
- Chevy Chase as Jack Sturgess (Squatting Dog)
- Farrah Fawcett as Sandy Archer
- Jonathan Taylor Thomas as Ben Archer (Little Wing)
- George Wendt as Chet Bronski (Chief Running Horse)
- David Shiner as Lloyd Small (Silent Thunder)
- Zachary Browne as Norman Bronski (Dark Eagle)
- Nicholas Garrett as Monroe Hill
SoundtrackA soundtrack by Walt Disney Records was scheduled to coincide with the film's release, but never came to fruition due to the fact Disney could not procure the rights to several of the songs for a soundtrack release, most notably C+C Music Factory's "Gonna Make You Sweat" and Enigma's "Return to Innocence". Despite this, "Hit the Road Jack", a song by R&B artist Percy Mayfield, was cleared for release on the soundtrack that, ultimately, never made it to market. The soundtrack was advertised on promotional materials from mid-1994 to early-1995. "Return to Innocence (Short Version)" was used in Jack and Sandy's wedding during the film), "Return to Innocence (Single Version)" was to be used on the unreleased Man of the House soundtrack, and "Return to Innocence (380 Midnight Mix)" was used in the two Man of the House promo TV spots.
The film was generally panned by critics. It currently has a 14% "Fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes. However it did moderately well at the box office, faring well with young audiences, and grossing about $40 million domestically.