Daily Archives: December 25, 2022

The Ref (1994)

*. Some interesting credits, even before you get to the cast. A Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheiser film. I guess they were having a Christmas break or something from shoot-’em-ups. Though Simpson said he could relate to this project as its “biting and sarcastic” tone was up his alley.
*. And then we have the cast. This was very much a vehicle, close to a launch, for Denis Leary. He was the main attraction and was set up to do his thing, playing a break-and-enter man who takes a bickering couple hostage on Christmas. They proceed to drive him crazy.
*. Unfortunately, as many critics were quick to point out, Leary’s stand-up persona didn’t translate that well to such a property. To my eye, he always seems waiting for a punchline that he isn’t being allowed to deliver. I blame the script, which isn’t funny at all and even finds itself recycling a number of old jokes. Before too long I was wishing Leary had just been left to improv the entire thing. He looks like he knows he’s dying (in the stand-up sense) and it’s killing him.
*. The couple are played by Kevin Spacey and and Judy Davis, talented actors not known for their work in comedy. Sometimes casting this way works and you get revelations like George C. Scott in Dr. Strangelove, but here it’s a flop. Again I think the script is mostly at fault, but Spacey and Davis can’t even sell the mediocre parts.
*. OK, I didn’t like it. The premise is really simple and gets increasingly strained as things go along. Then it’s wound up in the most predictable and feel-good way you could imagine (and likely were). It did poorly at the box office and some people thought that was because it was too dark. I think it needed to be a lot darker. I don’t know what Simpson saw in it, because for me it wasn’t nearly biting and sarcastic enough. Everybody knows married couples bitch at each other, that holidays with family can be hell, and that letting it all hang out can be a kind of therapy. So what?
*. Apparently the original ending, with Leary getting arrested, didn’t work with audiences so they reshot it and didn’t end up releasing the movie until March. Which I’m sure didn’t help the box office for what was clearly meant to be a Christmas movie. Honestly, they didn’t get anything right here. There are Simpsons Christmas specials with more laughs and social insight. It might have had a shot at attracting a following if it had been a little more perverse, but as it is I think it’s justifiably forgotten.