The Ref (1994)

"Welcome to the real world, where most of the time things don't go the
f***** way you want." - Denis Leary to a teenager who's whining about

Just in time to fill the void left by "Grumpy Old Men" comes "The Ref,"
a gleeful celebration of cynicism and "bad will toward men" that, for my
money, is a bonafide Christmas classic. THE REF *works* and, as a Spring
seasoner, it's the classiest current comedy out.

Dennis Leary is "Gus," a burglar whose Christmas in Connecticut is
heisting for the holidays. But Gus gets a lump of coal after botching a
burglary on Christmas Eve. Alarms go off, his partner gets scared, and
Gus is left fleeing on foot. To better his escape, Gus hijacks a married
couple (Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey) and directs them to their home.

One problem: the couple is returning from their marriage counselor and
they *cannot* stop fighting. Even after being tied-up and held at

(Leary instructs: "I have a gun. It's loaded. Shut up.")

Things quickly go from worst to awful with the arrival of the police,
the teenage son, and the in-laws. The film climaxes in a hilarious
dinner/present-opening scene with Leary posing as a marriage counselor.

Everyone in THE REF is madder than hell and they spend the entire film
venting it at each other. Normally, this would make for a very
oppressive occasion-- holiday film or otherwise. But director Ted Demme,
nephew of Jonathan, keeps the tone carefully balanced between hateful
and humorous. Even the most caustic comments are amazingly amusing.
Anyone who's ever held their tongue for the holidays will delight in
this fiercely frank farce.

With only a couple sight gags and a minimalist plot, THE REF succeeds
on the virtues a great script and a great cast.

Denis Leary is an exasperated marvel, cursing in bewilderment and
punctuating every double-take with a variation of the f-word.  Judy
Davis is a gem, playing her "wicked wife" very close to her character
from HUSBANDS AND WIVES.  And Kevin Spacey is a surprise standout as the
henpecked husband who gets to speak his mind *and* whack a Christmas
tree with a fireplace poker.

The three wise leads-- who share equal screen time-- are backed by a
super supporting cast that includes Richard Bright, Robert J.
Steinmiller Jr., and Glynis Johns.  The latter played the mother in MARY
POPPINS.  Here, she's the "Mom from Hell."

The screenplay, by Richard LaGravenese and Maria Weiss, is black comedy
at its best and has enough great lines to warrant a second viewing. Or
third. Or fourth.

BOTTOM LINE:  Hilarious black Christmas comedy about a family that gets
to tell each other exactly what they feel, courtesy of a
calls-it-like-it-is burglar who's holding them hostage for the holidays.

Grade: A-

Copyright 1994 by Michael J. Legeros

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