THE REF (1994) 

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Denis Leary
Kevin Spacey
Judy Davis
Robert J. Steinmiller Jr.
Glynis Johns
Christine Baranski
Adam LeFevre

Ted Demme



Time: 93 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Black Comedy/Holiday

SYNOPSIS: A cat burglar is forced to take a bickering, dysfunctional family hostage on Christmas Eve.

BOTTOM LINE: It's amazing how much fun watching bitter, mean, sarcastic, unhappy people can be, especially when they're in a holiday movie. I don't know why, but I would guess that it's because we've all been there to one extant or another and are just glad that someone else is having the Christmas dinner from hell. THE REF is just one giant screaming match of ugly, raw emotion. There's no one who can play bitter and angry, while still being funny, better than Kevin Spacey, Denis Leary and Judy Davis. This is verbal tag-teaming at it's best. They spew their dialogue with so much anger, wit and sarcasm you can practically see the knives being thrown. These characters are beyond fed-up with their lives and have nothing to lose. They're also incredibly funny.

Denis Leary plays Gus, your basic common thief who's tired of his wayward life and wants to settle down. All he needs is one last, major score and he can retire from his criminal lifestyle. He figures what night could be better than Christmas Eve. Everyone is distracted by the holiday cheer, no one will notice a stranger in town up to no good. Things go according to plan until he sets off the safe alarm, which also has an extra cat-pee spray deterant. He manages to get the loot, but not without alerting everyone in town of his presence. Needing a quick getaway, he jumps in the car of Lloyd (Spacey) and Caroline (Davis), a couple for whom bickering is an Olympic event. Gus quickly realizes he's jumped from the frying pan into the third ring of hell.

With no other choice, he forces them to return to their house and hide him until he can make contact with his alcoholic, incompetant partner Lou. Though Lloyd and Caroline are scared they have their own problems which they are only to happy to share with Gus. Unable to think with their constant fighting, he ties them up in an upstairs bedroom. He can't understand what these people have to fight about. They're rich, they have a nice house, why can't they appreciate their good fortune? Unfortunately for Gus, he can't keep them there long. They're hosting the Christmas Eve dinner.

"You know what I'm going to get you next Christmas, Mom? A big wooden cross, so that every time you feel unappreciated for your sacrifices, you can climb on up and nail yourself to it."

They try to convince Gus to make his escape, but he's trapped until he hears from Lou. Besides the cops are out everywhere. When their son Jessie arrives, Gus ties him up and threatens to hurt him if Lloyd and Caroline don't do exactly as he says. They are going to pretend that nothing is wrong and get rid of their relatives as quickly as possible. The emotions and anger get cranked up another notch when the in-laws arrive. Lloyd's mother makes Joan Crawford from "Mommie Dearest" look like a saint. If she was my mother, she would have had a serious "accident" years before. Of course, everyone defers to her because she has all the money and would rather die than part with one cent. Gus is forced to pretend he's Lloyd and Caroline's marriage counselor, Dr. Wong, in order to explain his presence. Once the meal is served, Caroline begins to get progressively drunk and verbally abusive. She's had it with this family and she wants out, which pleases her mother-in-law immensely.

The rest of the family is appalled by Caroline and Lloyd's bickering. They were just expecting a nice quiet holiday dinner. Gus gets Caroline to sober up by reminding her about Jessie, tied up in her bedroom. To speed the evening along, he suggests they move to opening presents. As expected, nobody really likes what they get, especially the gifts from Grandma, which are cheap and completely thoughtless. When Lloyd gives his mother an envelope with a payment on their loan enclosed, the fireworks begin again. In the end, the one thing Lloyd and Caroline agree on is that they should never have accepted the house or money from his mother, the super bitch. The pressure of walking on eggshells around this vicious, bitter old woman ruined their marriage.

This fight is the last straw for Gus. Tired of listening to everyone, epsecially Lloyd's mother, he has the kids tie the extra adults up, which they are only too happy to do. Now that everything is finally out in the open, Caroline and Lloyd see each other in a new light. Gus could care less, he just wants to get out of this situation alive. Lou finally calls right before the police show up. They've been conducting house to house searches and it's they're turn. Lloyd and Caroline know exactly what to do. They send Jessie with Gus to show him the way to the marina where Lou is waiting with an escape boat. They'll deal with the police. They certainly can't turn in the man who is responsible for saving their family.

THE REF is not a film for everyone. If your idea of a good holiday movie is IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, you will probably not enjoy this version of Christmas cheer – even though it does have a happy ending. Sometimes joy comes from pain. What makes this film great is the dialogue and the performances. The writing is crisp, clean and mean, mean, mean. It's also incredibly honest. Though it's essentially a comedy, this film taps into real emotions and family issues. The cast really gives it life, making you feel their frustration and sadness. Plus it's fun to watch other peoples' pain. On top of everything this is a funny, funny movie – if you like your comedies with a dark side.

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