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.

10 thoughts on “The Ref (1994)

  1. fragglerocking

    Blimey whatever happened to Dennis Leary, used to like him. Haven’t seen this, it being a Christmas Movie (Die Hard still The only Christmas movie I’ve ever seen) and I won’t bother with it.

    1. Alex Good Post author

      This was early Leary and I think set up to launch him as a comic lead as he was mainly known for his stand-up before this. He’s an actor with a lot of charm but he has nothing to work with here.

      More recently he’s been a lot less active on the big screen. Bit parts as Gwen Stacy’s dad in the Amazing Spider-Man movies. Some voice work in animated films.

  2. Bookstooge

    I just love when people are “tied up” and it’s obvious they’re about as tied up as a can of ketchup (which is something I just made up and means nothing, which is the point). That picture just made me roll my eye 😀

    What a downer to watch for a Christmas movie. I hope you’ll treat yourself better and watch Die Hard today 🙂

      1. Bookstooge

        I realize that things like guns, hollywood has no conception of the reality, but tying someone up? Come on, I’m sure somebody onset must be into the kinky stuff and could have given them some pointers. Or you know, just tie someone up. It’s not that hard!

        Ahhhh, hollywood. Gets my goat every time…

      2. Alex Good Post author

        It’s typical of the movie. I cut them slack because it’s a Christmas comedy sort of along the lines of Home Alone meets Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? And the plot gets way more improbable as things go along. But it seems to me for this kind of thing to work you sort of have to believe in it just a bit, and here you don’t.

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