James Krippendorf, is an anthropologist and a single dad trying to raise three kids and he's having a tough time of it. For the past two years, he's been living off a proxmire foundation grant to study an "undiscovered" tribe in New Guinea. Word comes that his lecture is due, but he's not ready. There is no tribe. and he's spent all the money rearing his dysfunctional children. As he bluffs his way through his presentation, he's shocked when informed that his grant requires documentation - 16mm movies of these unknown natives he claims he's discovered. Out of desperation, Krippendorf uses the most primitive group he knows as a model - his own family - and calls them the Shelmikedmu, named after his kids: Shelly, Mickey and Edmund. Desperately, he begs his children for help in concocting a scheme involving this fictional tribe. Now his dysfunctional family becomes a working family by becoming primitive - Krippenforf's tribe.