Rebecca "Becca" Warner (Carla Gugino) is a small town South Dakota farm girl who has given up the small town life in favor of college at the University of Los Angeles. After arriving, she encounters a massive culture shock in both the city and her own dormis seriously considering returning home — until she meets Crawl (Pauly Shore), her dorm residential advisor who has been attending college for several years. He persuades her to stay in California and begins to introduce her to the lifestyles and customs that she had been so afraid of. She begins to enjoy her time there, and gives herself a makeover, cutting and dying her hair and even getting a tattoo of a butterfly on her ankle. When it comes time for the Thanksgiving holiday break, an impending almost-definite proposal from Becca's at-home boyfriend Travis fills her with mixed feelings. Discovering that Crawl has no family to visit during this time, she impulsively invites him to come spend Thanksgiving with her family.
Upon her return home, Becca's parents Walter (Lane Smith), Connie (Cindy Pickett), her teenage brother Zack (Patrick Renna), her grandfather Walter Sr. (Mason Adams) and Travis (Dan Gauthier) are shocked by her SoCal style and changes. Their normally conservative lifestyle is intruded upon by Crawl, who initially got on Walter's wrong foot when Walter was moving Becca into the dorms. Their objections are kept relatively mild until they go to dinner, when Becca prompts Crawl to intervene with Travis's proposal. Improvising, Crawl says that he had already proposed. The announcement prompts Travis to punch Crawl in the face, causing Crawl's nose to bleed and making a big scene even worse. Walter is appalled at the idea of his daughter marrying Crawl, especially when Crawl claims his interest in someday inheriting the Warner dairy farm. Walter's farmhand Theo (Dennis Burkley) helps to send Crawl through the pratfalls and often failures of adjusting to farm life. Incredibly, Crawl rebounds, slowly earning Walter's grudging respect along the way. Crawl also makes friends with one of Becca's high school friends, Tracy (Tiffani Thiessen) and he adjusts to the life of a country boy.
Slowly but surely, Crawl's distinctive and outgoing nature begins to win over the Warners. Crawl attempts to save Walter Sr.'s life through CPR when Walter has a spell without his heart medication. Instead he ends up terrifying Walter, but he gains a little of Jr's respect. Crawl's abundant knowledge of computers and youthful attitude endear him to Zack, who starts to think of Crawl as a big brother. Connie is brought out of her shell through Crawl's praise of her hidden good looks. Soon everyone starts to see Crawl in a new light—except for Travis, and Theo, whose job has been made much harder due to circumstances brought about by Crawl's buffoonery. Travis sets up a bachelor party to welcome Crawl into their lives and sets up Tracy to sing and dance for him. The next morning Crawl and Tracy awaken in the barn, having apparently slept together, but neither of them can remember what happened. This upsets Becca, who immediately calls off the engagement. Crawl, ashamed, leaves to hitchhike back to Los Angeles. Tracy discovers a bottle of pills in her car, and that the driver's seat has mysteriously been pushed far back. She picks Crawl up from the road and they confront Theo and Travis, who take responsibility for setting them up. Theo is praised for his honesty, but fired by Walter on the spot. Travis tries to confront Becca about the incident, but Crawl knocks him to the floor, revealing that he had majored in karate for two of his semesters. Tracy is then welcomed to the table, and just as Becca is about to reveal that the proposal was a hoax, Crawl interrupts her, advising that they should wait a while before actually getting married, suggesting he plans a legitimate proposal to Becca, and finally earning Walter's full respect.
- Pauly Shore as Fred/"Crawl"
- Carla Gugino as Rebecca "Becca" Warner
- Lane Smith as Walter Warner
- Cindy Pickett as Connie Warner
- Mason Adams as Walter Warner, Sr.
- Patrick Renna as Zack Warner
- Tiffani Thiessen as Tracy
- Dan Gauthier as Travis
- Dennis Burkley as Theo
- Brendan Fraser as Link (uncredited)
After Encino Man Disney had the option of two more films with Shore. Shore was considering a film Totally London with New Line cinema, but was persuaded by Katzenberg to stay with Disney and make Son in Law.
The promotional poster for the film is a parody of the painting American Gothic. The opening title sequence and graduation ceremony scene were filmed at Sierra Vista High School, located in Baldwin Park, California at the old football stadium.
To promote the film, MTV ran a contest to marry Pauly Shore in Las Vegas. Tanya Cinotti of Salisbury, Massachusetts, won the honor and the wedding was set for July 2, 1993. Though there was a ceremony, no marriage certificates were signed.
Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 22% based on reviews from 18 critics.
The Los Angeles Times suggests the film is trying to be a comedy version of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner although the lead character is genuinely a destructive jerk. The film is given some small praise for its "bright surface, brisk direction and even a few funny performances" but the reviewer bemoans "laborious innuendoes and slick double-entendres".
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