https://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=1639&reviewer=114

Ref, The

Reviewed By Improv King
Posted 06/15/99 12:15:59

"A Christmas film for people who fucking HATE christmas."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

I hate Christmas. It's not because of the sappy TV specials, not because merchants begin putting out holly and reindeer in October, not even because the tree you buy has needles falling off of it within a week and the cat chokes on the tinsel because you forgot to leave it off the bottom branches. I hate Christmas because we have to pretend to get along with everyone, even with people you can't stand to be in the same room with the other 364 days of the year. Well, finally there is a movie that shows the way people REALLY behave at Christmas, and it's called the Ref.

Denis Leary is the title character - he plays Gus, a cat burglar who has been on a crime spree in a well-to-do Connecticut bedroom community. But his last score was a disaster, so he's on the run, where fate connects him with Caroline and Lloyd Chausseur. Gus couldn't have come along at a worse time - Caroline & Lloyd's 12-year marriage is a shambles, they argue constantly, and they've got company coming for Christmas dinner. To make matters worse, Gus's partner Murray ran away at the first sign of trouble, and Murray is stuck at a bar, trying to calm his nerves. It all goes downhill from there.
But, in a good way: The Ref plays like a well-timed English farce, only the characters are self- centered, mouthy, pissed off Americans. This is one of the few mainstream Hollywood scripts where none of the characters are likable: you love to hate them all. Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey are perfectly cast as Caroline & Lloyd- you can almost see the daggers shooting from their eyes as they put each other down. Leary's comic persona of the tightly wound bad guy fits into this film like a fish hook in an open eye (nods to Margaret Atwood): I expected him to pistol whip everyone in the family, steal their valuables, then take his chances with the police. The supporting cast is beautifully ugly, too: Glynis Johns as the miserly grandmother is inspiring in her selfishness (and inspires the best line of dialogue yet in a movie, IMHO), and Christine Baranski (pre-Cybill) gets in some great whining as the sister-in-law dragged to dinner entirely against her will. Even the community Santa gets drunk in front of the kids, and pisses on a tree.

But The Ref is not all Scrooge - there are some touchy-feely scenes in this movie, and dammit, there is a happy ending (this IS Hollywood, after all), but it's all OK. The pace is swift, the actors brilliant, and the script is fall down funny - there are enough witty one-liners in this movie for seven average Hollywood comedies. The Ref is a comic spike in the holiday eggnog.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.