If your a fan of Dennis Leary’s stand-up comedy as much as I am, you’ll find much to enjoy in this 1994 comedy. Leary’s sarcastic forked tongue, hundred mile an hour ranting is certainly a style within it’s own, just like the end of his popular song “Asshole” and there’s plenty of moments where he gets to flex his vocal muscle in fits of frustrated rage.
Alongside Leary is the inimitable Kevin Spacey as Lloyd, a downtrodden and emasculated husband under the rule of his iron fisted mother and living in relationship hell with his wife Caroline (Judy Davis) on the verge of divorce. Now, these two aren’t just unhappy, they’re freaking unbearable to listen to with their constant unending digs at each other culminating into full blown arguments. Leary comes into the picture as Gus, a cat burglar who’s forced into taking Lloyd, Caroline and family hostage after a bungled robbery in the neighborhood on Christmas Eve night. Essentially, Gus is trying to hide from the police patrolling the neighborhood whilst barely hanging onto his sanity trying to control the bickering pair.
On top of this, their despicable in-laws are coming around for a family dinner leading Gus to become the glue to try and keep everything from spiraling out of control. Posing as the couple’s marriage guidance counsellor when the rest of the family arrives leads Gus down at least a couple of the seven circles of hell. A strange situation indeed.
Although The Ref does head down a few paths of familiar territory with its plot developments and cliched tropes, it doesn’t really matter. This movie does it right. Leary really is a great actor and I’m surprised he’s not in more films. He has excellent comic timing and even Spacey show off a few chops in this area as well. Long before his stint as the sardonic Lester in American Beauty, Spacey shows a few flickers of the same character in this film. Judy Davis and Spacey work amazingly well together and pull off the couple with hate filled back-and-forth’s easily. The rest of the family are suitably annoying with the mother-in- law being particularly infuriating. Leary really chews the scenery in these scenes and even Spacey has his moment of rage filled outburst.
The Ref is a fine film and one worth watching with the better half. You could even put it in the “watch at Christmas time” pile alongside Gremlins, Elf, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Scrooged and the like. Out of all of Leary’s films, this one is a close favorite and well worth your time if you haven’t seen it yet.