On the Sixth Day of Christmas… “The Ref”

[…Day 6 of the 12 Days of Christmas review project…]
The Ref

Director: Ted Demme (Blow, Life, Beautiful Girls)
Writers: Richard LaGravenese, Marie Weiss
Story: Marie Weiss
Producers: Ronald M. Bozman, Richard LaGravenese, Jeffrey Weiss
Starring: Denis Leary, Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis, Christine Baranski, Raymond J. Barry
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 97 min.
Year of Release: 1994

Again with the atypical of holiday movies. With The Ref, Denis Leary finds out what it means to be a logical guy caught up in a nightmare that would make a guest at George and Martha’s house seem like a stint in heaven. Throw in the twist that Leary himself is playing a prowler on the run and that even more unstable relatives are on their way, destined to ruin his plans and it’s a cackling good time – even if the constant bickering is liable to get on your verves (if you weren’t laughing so hard).

Leary plays Gus, a burglar who has just fled the scene of his latest victim after an alarm has notified the bumbling, local police. He hijacks a couple on their way home and demands to be taken to their house. Little does he know that the couple, Lloyd and Caroline, are in the midst of a knockdown, drag-out, divisive fight that no metter how much Gus pleads with (and threatens) them, they are relentless in trying to outdo, one-up and humiliate the other. To make matters worse, more relatives are on their way over to the house for Christmas dinner. Explaining who this fresh face is and why he has a gun is where the story takes off into hilarity.

This movie fails miserably without chemistry. Luckily the three main have enough chemistry to make a small science lab explode. All I could think about was the hope that I might again someday see another film starring the likes of Leary and Spacey together again with their sarcasm and their wit. While I’m sure Leary would be up for it, Spacey is probably far too worried about which “gay, singing school teacher from the east coast who runs a public newpaper and has to bury his mother” film he’s going to do next. /cheap shot.

So while the characters all appear to be incorrigibles (even the children), it of course ends up being Gus who tries to diffuse situations and calmly get through the evening. Of course everything tried fails miserably and compounds problems. And while I tend to hate movies in which no character has a redeeming value and there is no character that should truly be rooted for, with The Ref, the characters are too much fun and make me laugh too much for me to hate any of them. Even the bitchy mother in law is too over the top to truly hate.

If I had some gripes they would be minor and really only have anything to do with side plots and nearly needless characters. The wasting of JK Simmons for example is one aspect of the film that could actually just have been cut completely. It didn’t add much and only slowed the story and the laughs.

Also the typical, stupid, bumbling police routine is wearing a bit thin on me. At one point the Chief of Police actually tries to provide an explanation as to why the cops are so inexperienced and stupid. I actually bought this notion and thought it was a nice tactic to get the stupidity factor out of my mind. But then it becomes clear that “bumbling” doesn’t begin to describe these police officers. Bordering on retarded would be a better way of describing them. They’re there as clowns and to hopefully provide that added bit of tension to Gus’ situation. So the explanation in the beginning now means nothing. Still, by the end of a movie such as this, I’m able to tell myself that it’s hardly the point and matters very little. Now in something like Die Hard, it pisses me off a little bit more.

So while not a perfect film or even anything resembling a masterpiece, the go betweens of the main characters and the chemistry between each of them is flawless and hilarious. I would’ve liked to see the traditional Leary, long-winded, breathless rant that last five minutes but maybe that would’ve rendered his performance as just another off-shoot of his stand up routine. Nope, in general I had a really good time with this and would recommend it to others and am quite sure I’ll be revisiting this one again on subsequent Christmas’.

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I didn't miss the 'ranting part' because there is always the Dennis Leary stand-up stuff for that. The scene where he is "Dr. Wu" (My father was Irish, my mother was…..not") presiding over the 'traditional scandanavian dinner' where he tries to mediate is bloody hilarious. And earlier, best line in the film is to Judy Davis, "What are we? Girlfriends?" Priceless delivery. This movie is a real guilty pleasure for me and pretty darn near a holiday tradition.

I heart Christine Baranski ("Slipper Socks. Medium") and J.K. Simmons in his little (unnecessary, but still) micro-role.


This is one of the ones I have to watch every year.


This movie made me realize I've been mixing up Judy and Hope Davis for years. And here I was wondering how the hell she looks so much better in Synecdoche than in the Ref.