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The Ref

The Ref (1994)



Average Rating: 6.4/10
Reviews Counted: 51
Fresh: 36 | Rotten: 15

Undeniably uneven and too dark for some, The Ref nonetheless boasts strong turns from Denis Leary, Judy Davis, and Kevin Spacey, as well as a sharply funny script.


Average Rating: 5.5/10
Critic Reviews: 14
Fresh: 7 | Rotten: 7

Undeniably uneven and too dark for some, The Ref nonetheless boasts strong turns from Denis Leary, Judy Davis, and Kevin Spacey, as well as a sharply funny script.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.3/5
User Ratings: 26,403

My Rating

Movie Info

Caroline and Lloyd (Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey) are a married couple constantly at each other's throats, masters at crafting acid-tongued barbs at the other's expense. Indeed, they are so obsessed with belittling each other that they never stop -- not even at gunpoint. Such is the premise of the acerbic comedy The Ref, which shows what happens when this quarrelsome duo is taken hostage. The gunman is Gus (Denis Leary), a thief on the run from the police, who kidnaps the couple as an insurance


Drama, Comedy

Mar 4, 2003

Buena Vista Internationa

Watch It Now


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All Critics (51) | Top Critics (14) | Fresh (36) | Rotten (15) | DVD (6)

It's miraculous casting, and the Australian Davis -- for my money the finest actress around, bar none -- is simply uncanny in her command of East Coast gentility combined with razor-sharp timing and comedic expression.

December 6, 2013 Full Review Source: Seattle Times
Seattle Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The Ref benefits from having actor's actors like Davis and Spacey in the leads.

December 6, 2013 Full Review Source: Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
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It's not a bad idea, but it's not a good movie, either.

December 6, 2013 Full Review Source: Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
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Whether it's a function of sloppy editing or sloppy writing, few of these supporting players and their accompanying subplots pay off.

December 6, 2013 Full Review Source: Philadelphia Inquirer
Philadelphia Inquirer
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A foulmouthed sitcom of a film.

September 7, 2011 Full Review Source: Entertainment Weekly
Entertainment Weekly
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The Ref works virtually none of the miracles of [Richard LaGravenese's screenplay for The Fisher King,] his previous mix 'n' match effort.

March 26, 2009 Full Review Source: Variety
Top Critic IconTop Critic

A genuinely hysterical anti-holiday comedy.

December 29, 2013 Full Review Source: Cinema Crazed
Cinema Crazed

This is a funny idea, but the movie is too thinly written to build any real credibility, and the cast rarely seems in tune with the vapid vulgarities that dominate the dialogue.

December 6, 2013 Full Review Source: Christian Science Monitor
Christian Science Monitor

The Ref is a powerfully funny adult comedy. It skewers marriage, suburban values and the trendy belief that everyone is a victim of something.

December 6, 2013 Full Review Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

The trouble with The Ref is that it keeps running out of steam, so it seems to develop a new plot wrinkle every seven minutes. Typically, it'll run through the new idea until it runs out of steam again, then invents yet another one.

December 6, 2013 Full Review Source: Baltimore Sun
Baltimore Sun

While director Ted Demme seems to be trying to impose a Home Alone tone, he only succeeds in lending an air of desperation, with lame subplots blundering into the picture.

December 6, 2013 Full Review Source: People Magazine
People Magazine

It's cynical, mean-spirited and, at least at first, viciously funny.

December 4, 2006 Full Review Source: TV Guide's Movie Guide
TV Guide's Movie Guide

The Ref is the one Christmas movie that I can relate to.

December 24, 2005 Full Review Source:

[Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey] play this strident high comedy duet with a self-sustaining brio that easily puts them on the level of the stars of Twentieth Century, The Awful Truth, The Philadelphia Story, and His Girl Friday.

December 19, 2005 Full Review Source:

Dennis Leary's shining hour. His stand-up persona's greatest moment and it was all down hill from there.

December 21, 2004
Greenwich Village Gazette

One of the most underrated comedies of the 1990s

October 7, 2004
Kalamazoo Gazette

Just because The Ref isn't your typical Christmas movie doesn't mean you should skip it. In fact, it should be just the opposite.

December 24, 2003 Full Review Source: Movie Views

Better in hindsight than it first appeared. Leary truly rises to the challenge of acting opposite Davis and Spacey.

November 28, 2003
New Times

Audience Reviews for The Ref

Now this is a blast from the past, well the early 90's. Back in the days when Leary was a smokin' hot comedian but not much of a movie star and Spacey wasn't that much of a movie star either!. One of those films yous saw in the videoshop amongst the other comedies but never rented because you didn't really know who the actors were, and you'd never heard of the film, maybe that's just me.

The plot isn't rocket science but it is genius. Its Christmas and a robber is on the run, so he kidnaps a middle aged married couple, taking them back to their house. Little does the robber know these two lovebirds are having a bit of a marital spat and are at each others throats. To top that the whole family are on the way for Xmas Eve dinner so Leary's robber must try to control the happy couple whilst dealing with a group of nosy pestering family members.

It really does sound like the next perfect National Lampoon caper for Chevy Chase, the whole film is very much like 'Christmas Vacation' accept this is more for adults. Its all very obvious really, naturally Leary uses his quickfire motormouth wit to spearhead much of the comedy and cruel attacks against various family members. Spacey's character is soft spoken but with a sharp tongue whilst Davis' character beautifully grows from calm and collected to spiteful rude and loud with her verbal assaults as she slowly gets more drunk.

The main attacks fly in the direction of Spacey's mother played in a very stuffy way by the stout Glynis Johns. Of course the old mother character has money so the family normally suck up to her constantly, but this all breaks down slowly as the evening progresses which leads to some very funny moments. You can count on Leary to lose his rag in a monumental fashion with everyone as the heat builds and his window to escape slowly closes.

Quite simply the film plays on the common much used comedic factors of our own relations, something that every family in the world can probably relate to. The old mother who is gruff with little tact and heavily controls one son too much. That son being downtrodden weak and always overruled by his wife who clearly wears the pants in the relationship. The other son not liking his brothers wife (his sister-in-law) because she has his brother whipped. The old mother not liking either sons wives and the wives not liking her (the mother-in-law) either. Caught in the middle are the kids who watch with glee as their parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents swear and curse at each other.

All the characters are very cliched no doubt, all the usual family stereotypes are drained of every last drop of predictable comedy completely. But it works brilliantly, watching the grown ups verbally abuse each other whilst trying to hold it together for the kids and for Christmas is hilarious. Tiptoeing around delicate issues and then bringing them up deliberately to cause an outburst, it makes you laugh it makes you cringe. Then to add to that you have Leary going nuts trying to keep everything civil whilst trying not to break his cover and trying not get caught by the old bill. The fact Leary acts as the marriage counselor for Spacey and Davis really cranks up the laughs when he verbally jousts against the mother and sister-in-law.

This is one of those perfect anti-Christmas flicks that's perfect for Christmas. All the performances are really very good bringing the film to life and making the story so compelling. Its a completely character driven plot with no fancy set pieces or effects or crazy stunts, its all about the dialog. Yeah you know it will have a happy ending and you kinda know how it will pan out as your watching, but its still a dark razor sharp witty pleasure.
March 18, 2014

Super Reviewer

A smartly crafted holiday comedy film that focuses on a cat burglar who takes a dysfunctional family hostage. The Ref is a smart, funny comedy with a great cast. Denis Leary is perfect in his role, and Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey have great chemistry as the dysfunctional couple. Though the humor slows down a bit, the story is engaging enough for you to be entertained and with a good cast like this, it's impossible not to be. There's a perfect blend of effective storytelling that compliments the humor, and though it's not as hilarious as so many mainstream critics have said, The Ref is still funny enough for you to laugh and enjoy a fun, entertaining hour and a half. What really makes this a good film are the performances, everyone of the cast is well picked for the parts they play. I really enjoyed Denis Leary, and I thought watching him loose his mind as the couple and family is driving him crazy was just funny, and simply a great comedic performance. The Ref has its flaws, but overall it works well enough to be a highly entertaining comedy film with a good cast of talented actors that make this film worth watching. This is a good comedy with plenty of laughs that is smartly crafted and is worth seeing if you're in the mood for a comedy with great acting and a good story. Not a perfect film, but for what it is, The Ref delivers a good, solid entertaining hour and a half filled with laughter. Denis Leary is really the one that delivers here, and he makes the film a must see.
November 16, 2011
Jeff "The Dude" Lebowski

Super Reviewer

"The Ref" is one of my favorite Christmas movies, it stars Denis Leary as a cat burglar who unwittingly takes bickering couple Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis hostage and ultimately ends up having to meet with the entire, annoying family for Christmas dinner.

As the feuding spouses, Spacey and Davis are perfect. They have a corrosive chemistry together and feed off of their character's biting, ill-spirited, hilarious put-downs and rantings. Denis Leary is also crudely effective as the titular character, tortured by the couple's incessant fighting. The family dinner is another laugh riot, with the actors hitting all the right chords as the stereotypically irritating, obligated-to-visit relatives who have an equally uneven family.

Besides the family hostage story, there are also several other stories that run throughout the movie involving blackmail and a disgruntled neighborhood Santa Claus. Director Ted Demme balances all these storylines, albeit sometimes not very developed ones, and juggles them adequately with the main act.

Ted Demme's direction is also controlled and never lets up, sticking to the scripts incisive arguments and family-haranguing and not reducing this smart, sometimes dark comedy to a typical, brainless holiday flick. The only time he falters is with the ending, of which the last minute could have been cut. Otherwise, this is a very funny, stinging, and unusual Christmas movie that gets more laughs than most Hollywood-packaged, uninspired crowd-pleasers.
December 16, 2010
David Ladd

Super Reviewer

What a great dark comedy. Loved every bit of this movie. Reminds me of my family. Not sure thats a good thing. A lot of laughs. Love Kevin Spacey and Denis Leary in this movie. Has to be my favorite Christmas film. Probably wouldn't have been as good if not for the three leads.
January 9, 2010

Super Reviewer

Movies Like The Ref

    1. Gus: Great! I just beat up Santa Claus!
    – Submitted by Frances H (21 months ago)
    1. Connie: Who would catch criminals and then just let them go?
    2. Mary: Republicans.
    – Submitted by Frances H (21 months ago)
    1. Gus: Let's get one thing straight. From now on, the only person who yells is me. Why? Because I have a gun. People who have guns can do whatever they want. Married people without guns, for instance, you...
    2. Caroline: Um-hum.
    3. Lloyd: Um-hum.
    4. Gus: Do not get to yell. Why? No guns! No guns! No yelling! Simple little equation!
    – Submitted by Frances H (21 months ago)
    1. Connie: The spirit of Christmas is either you're good, or you're punished and you burn in hell.
    – Submitted by Dann M (21 months ago)
    1. Gus: The army! What the f**k! I am Oswald here.
    – Submitted by Keighley K (2 years ago)
View all quotes (5)

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