Sexually abused as a young girl, Kate “Ma” Barker (Shelley Winters) grows into a violently powerful woman by the 1930s. She lovingly dominates her grown sons, and grooms them into a pack of tough crooks. The boys include the cruel Herman (Don Stroud), who still shares a bed with Ma; Fred (Robert Walden), an ex-con who fell in love with a fellow prisoner; and Lloyd (Robert De Niro), who gets high on whatever’s handy. Together they form a deadly, bizarre family of Depression-era bandits.
Teddy Duncan’s middle-class family embarks on a road trip from their home in Denver to visit Mrs. Duncans Parents, the Blankenhoopers, in Palm Springs. When they find themselves stranded between Denver and Utah, they try to hitch a ride to Las Vegas with a seemingly normal older couple in a station wagon from Roswell, New Mexico. It turns out that the couple believes they are the victims of alien abduction. The Duncan’s must resort to purchasing a clunker Yugo to get to Utah, have their luggage stolen in Las Vegas, and survive a zany Christmas with Grandpa and Grandma Blankenhooper.