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Review: The Ref (1994)

The Ref (1994) 

Directed by: Ted Demme

Premise: On Christmas Eve, a burglar (Denis Leary) kidnaps a dysfunctional couple (Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey) and holds them hostage while waiting for his getaway.

What Works: The Ref is a black comedy so its sense of humor is very deadpan and slightly cynical, meaning that the film is not for everyone. But for those who can appreciate the humor, The Ref is a memorable and funny story. Like many of the best holiday films such as A Christmas Story or Bad Santa, The Ref sends up the experience of Christmas and contrasts the idealized expectations that the holiday embodies with the failings and shortcomings of everyday life. This plays out through the bickering between the couple. Although their quarrels are witty and fun to watch, actors Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey make the audience care about the couple and halfway through the film, as their relationship approaches a breaking point, the film gets serious as it taps into the malcontent and spiritual emptiness of the couple’s life together. Standing between them as a moderator is Denis Leary and Leary demonstrates his characteristic fast talking, profanity laden comic routine but he also shows some of the dramatic acting that he would display in later work like Rescue Me. Things get further complicated as the delinquent son and obnoxious in-laws of the couple arrive and their dysfunctions add to the mix with both comic and dramatic pay offs.

What Doesn’t: The ending of The Ref comes too easily. The film needs the couple to make some kind of difficult choice but it does not present one to them and so the resolution of the conflict is not entirely satisfying.

DVD extras: None.

Bottom Line: The Ref is one of those unique films that combines comedy and drama in equal amounts, leaning each element against the other for a cumulative effect that has the appeal of a farce but the gravity of a tragedy.

Episode: #320 (December 26, 2010)