The Ref (1994)

The ref

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Not in holiday spirit.

Gus (Denis Leary) is a burglar who takes a bickering couple (Kevin Spacey, Judy Davis) hostage and soon learns to regret it especially when the rest of the family comes over for a Christmas celebration and he is thrust into the middle of all of their squabbling.

The film starts off with a real bang as it takes a lot of satirical pot shots at marriage counseling, people who dress up like Santa, family parties, suburbia, bickering couples, and of course the holiday season itself. Christine Baranski is top-rate as the sarcastic mother and it is unfortunate she wasn’t given more screen time. Even her kids are funny. Glynis Johns is also excellent as Spacey’s mother. She takes command of her scenes even when star Dennis Leary can’t. For her age she looks fantastic and it is nice to see an older actress playing a character that isn’t just used as a throwaway device for senile jokes and aging.

However, star Leary can’t seem to act, at least not here. He shot to fame with his dark and edgy stand- up routines, but here falls into a character that is much too watered down and benign. This was supposed to be his vehicle, but in the end it seems like his character wasn’t even necessary. Baranski’s character is far more funny and memorable even though she has much less screen time.

Spacey and Davis don’t click as a couple. They share no chemistry and their bickering seems strained and contrived. The film also falls too far away from its original premise. Having a two-bit crook dealing with a bickering couple at first seems like a funny concept, but then the story starts to delve much too deeply into their personal problems until it becomes like a family drama that isn’t at all amusing or entertaining.

The film has a few funny bits, but not enough to sustain it the whole way. Leary is very weak in the lead and this thing completely loses steam by the end.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: March 9, 1994

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Director: Ted Demme

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

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