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flick pick | The Ref 1994
Directed by: Ted Demme
Written by: Marie Weiss, Richard LaGravenese
Starring: Denis Leary, Judy Davis, Kevin Spacey
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: comedy
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: darkly comic
The critic says: / 5 the rating system explained
Fun factor: /5 

Plot synopsis It's Christmas Eve and Caroline and Lloyd Chasseur, fresh from another unproductive session with their marriage counselor, find themselves bickering on the way back home. Making a quick stop at a convenience store, Caroline storms in alone while Lloyd seethes in the car. In the same snooty Connecticut town, burglar Gus has managed to escape from a booby-trapped mansion he was attempting to loot. His ride is nowhere to be found and Gus is pissed. To make matters worse, his burglary attempt has become the talk of town, and the eccentric intended victim of the crime has offered a big cash prize for anyone that helps capture Gus. He's made it as far as the store when he spies Caroline, and decides to take her hostage so that she'll be forced to let him hide out in the safety of the Chasseur home until the cops get off his trail. He's got the gun, he's in control of the situation -- or so he thinks at first. Gus rapidly finds that not even a hostage crisis can prevent Caroline and Lloyd from putting their own marital problems at center stage. Between Caroline screaming at Lloyd for letting his mother rule his life and Lloyd sniping at Caroline for her recent infidelity, poor Gus can't hear himself think. Soon, Gus finds himself grudgingly playing mediator between husband and wife, even as he juggles the tricky issue of how to deal with the arrival of the extended Chasseur clan for the annual Christmas Eve dinner -- and ultimately, get himself away from the cops, and out of this suburban Connecticut dysfunctional hell.

Review It's hard to go too wrong with a cast that features the combined talents of Judy Davis, Kevin Spacey, and Denis Leary. I have a deep and irrational love for Leary in particular, who never fails to amuse me with his special brand of acerbic humor delivered with those slightly nasal, drawn-out vowels that reveal his Massachusetts roots (and nurture a deep, deep yearning for my home state). The casting and performances of all three in this very black Christmas comedy fortunately make up for the rather ridiculous plot. Davis is hilariously prickly and twitchy in her righteousness, and Spacey's emasculated husband learning to stand up for his rights is both pathetic and scathingly funny (and an obvious precursor to his American Beauty role). Still, it's Leary that owns this film, providing the greatest laughs -- and landing most of your sympathy as well. Lloyd, Caroline and most of the other members of the Chasseur family are so petty, selfish and mean that you're kind of glad to see their picture-perfect Christmas plans ruined. Gus, on the other hand, might be a criminal -- but he's also a guy who knows a Chagall when he sees it, and has the soul to appreciate its beauty. There's just enough sweetness balancing the scathingly funny back-and-forth volleys hurled between Caroline, Lloyd and Gus that The Ref actually feels like the perfect holiday movie -- for those of us who hate the schmaltzy peace-on-Earth drivel that runs rampant this time of year, but secretly wish for a smidgen of sincerely heartwarming optimism in our lives nonetheless. —reviewed by Yee-Fan Sun

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