Xmas Movie Suggestion: The Ref

For when sappy Christmas specials get to be too much
December 18, 2009
Christmas is a time for cheerful movies and joyous television specials. But sometimes a little sugar goes a long way. That's where The Ref comes into the picture. The Ref is my favorite Christmas movie of all time. There's nothing like a little bit of Denis Leary to brighten up the holidays. Yes, I'm a sick puppy.

I remember the first time I saw the movie. My friends and I were on a Denis Leary kick (this was the early nineties) and one of my friends rented the movie. While a lot of the jokes went over our heads, we couldn't help but laughing hysterically at Leary's typical ranting behavior. Years later, I came across a used VHS copy of the movie for $5 and grabbed it without thinking twice. This is still the copy that I watched, although it's gotten worn down over time and I'm thinking I may have to find the DVD of it finally.

The Ref, directed by Ted Demme (who also directed both of Denis Leary's comedy specials), came out in 1994. I remember reading somewhere that the movie suffered in the box office because it was released in March, months after Christmas, due to studio interference (unfortunately I can't seem to find this information again, so you'll have to take my word for it; thank God this isn't Wikipedia). It's a shame that it flew below the radar because the movie is a riot and has a wonderful cast.

Keep in mind that The Ref is not for everyone. It's a black comedy, with very caustic humor, serious subject matter dealt with in a non-serious way, foul language (as you would expect with Leary), and none of the holiday cheer that you would expect from a Christmas movie. With that in mind, let's go over the plot.

We open with Caroline and Lloyd Chasseur (played by Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey respectively) in a session with a marriage counselor. It becomes painfully obvious that the two of the them have been having problems for some time, and even the counselor seems to want to strangle them. The two exchange verbal barbs both directly and passive-aggressively, and seem to feel that the counselor is being completely useless. But let's leave these two for a moment and switch to...

Gus (Denis Leary), a cat burglar in the midst of a heist. Poor Gus manages to trigger a custom-made "Road Runner" type boobytrap, complete with trap door and vicious guard dog. The alarm signals the cops, and Gus's driver, Murray, disappears in a panic. Gus somehow manages to elude the cops and stumbles upon...
Caroline, who happens to be picking up a few things at the store. Gus, encouraging Caroline with the help of a gun in her back, leaves the store with her and gets in the car with her and Lloyd, taking the two hostage. During the ride back to their house, it's obvious that Gus is regretting his actions, as the couple continue to bicker and argue, even asking his opinion at points.

While waiting for Murray to find a getaway boat so they can leave via waterways, Gus learns more than he wants to about Caroline and Lloyd, interjecting his own blunt opinions on them liberally. Unfortunately for Gus, the Chasseur extended family shows up for Christmas dinner, adding more dysfunctional family goodness into the mix. We have loud and aggressive Connie, and soft-spoken and passive Gary (played by character actors Christine Baranski and Adam LeFevre respectively), their typical teenage kids, and the wonderfully hate-inspiring mother Rose (played by Glynis Johns, whom you may remember as the mother from Mary Poppins). It's a wonder that Gus just doesn't shoot each and every one of them before Christmas Eve is over.

Weaved into the movie are a couple of subplots. One involves Caroline and Lloyd's son, Jesse, who is secretly making a large sum of money off of his military school principal due to some racy blackmail pictures. Later on we find out that Jesse is saving up the money to run away, since he can't take the fighting between his parents any longer. There is also a subplot involving the rather inept cops in the town as they try to piece together Gus's attempted robbery, and the crap that the chief of police has deal with from some of the more arrogant members of the community. In reality, the police subplot could have totally been cut out of the movie, but it does have it's hilarious moments (that I don't want to give away). Oh, and then there's the subplot with the drunken Santa. I'll just leave that one to your imagination.

The movie is funny, but only if you have a sick sense of humor. Luckily, my wife shares my sick sense of humor, and we've made The Ref a holiday tradition. If you want something a bit different than the usual holiday fare, do yourself a favor and watch this one.

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