“The Ref” (1994): Denis Leary is an Asshole  – Film Review

“The Ref” (1994): Denis Leary is an Asshole – Film Review

Not Your Average Christmas Tale

Ah, the holidays. A time for love, joy, family gatherings, and… hostage situations? Enter “The Ref,” a 1994 film that hilariously juxtaposes the saccharine sweetness of Christmas with the absurdity of a bickering couple and the burglar who just might be their unexpected savior. Directed by Ted Demme and starring the dynamo trio of Denis Leary, Kevin Spacey, and Judy Davis, this dark comedy brings a fresh, albeit dysfunctional, twist to the festive season.

The Sticky Situation

Our story starts with Gus (Leary), a burglar with the unfortunate luck of botching a Christmas Eve heist in a small Connecticut town. In a desperate bid to evade the cops, he takes a couple, Lloyd (Spacey) and Caroline (Davis), hostage in their home. But, as Gus quickly discovers, he may have bitten off more than he can chew. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill hostages; they’re a couple so deep into their marital woes that even a life-threatening situation won’t put a lid on their relentless bickering. It’s “Home Alone” meets “Marriage Story” but with way more expletives.

Characters – More Layers than a Christmas Trifle

  • Gus (Denis Leary): A career criminal who, amidst his felonious activities, becomes the most relatable character. Who knew a robber could double as a couples therapist?
  • Lloyd and Caroline (Spacey & Davis): It’s as if someone took the phrase “opposites attract” and shook it up in a snow globe of dysfunction. Their non-stop quarreling paints a vivid picture of a marriage on the rocks, offering both humor and moments of unexpected depth.
  • The In-Laws: Ah yes, what’s a Christmas film without the uncomfortable family dinner? Their arrival amps up the tension, ensuring that viewers never have a dull moment.

Let’s Talk about Denis Leary – The Man Who Stole From Bill Hicks

Comedians and fans of Bill Hicks have directly accused Leary of borrowing or outright stealing Hicks’ material. The most notable instance might be the song “Asshole,” which Leary performed and which has been compared to a routine by Hicks. But here’s the kicker: Denis Leary named his comedy album “No Cure for Cancer” and Bill Hicks died of cancer.

Bill Hicks himself was aware of the comparisons and reportedly felt quite strongly about them. He’s quoted as having said about Leary’s act, “I have a scoop for you. I stole his [Leary’s] act. I camouflaged it with punchlines, and, to really throw people off, I did it before he did.”

Hicks passed away tragically young in 1994, just as he was breaking into a wider audience in the U.S., having achieved significant acclaim in the UK. After Hicks’ death, Leary’s career took off significantly, leading many to believe he capitalized on a style that was no longer being represented by its originator.

Behind-the-Scenes Tidbits – Unwrapping the Film’s Secrets

  • Improvisational Genius: Leary, known for his quick wit, reportedly improvised a significant portion of his lines. This adds a layer of spontaneity to the film, making Gus’s exasperated reactions all the more genuine.
  • Director’s Vision: Ted Demme, though more recognized for his dramatic masterpiece “Blow,” showcased his adeptness at balancing humor with underlying emotion. His direction ensures that while audiences laugh at the on-screen chaos, they also empathize with the characters’ very real struggles.
  • Snowy Setbacks: The film’s winter setting might look idyllic, but the production had to deal with real snow-related challenges, including unpredictable weather patterns that affected shooting schedules.

Comedic Gold – A Masterclass in Dark Humor

One of the film’s standout elements is its unabashed embrace of dark humor. The juxtaposition of a family Christmas with a hostage crisis creates a plethora of comedic situations. Gus’s desperate attempts to control his hostages while navigating their messy relationship are comedic gold. The snappy one-liners, especially those delivered by Leary, make “The Ref” a quotable delight.

Themes – More than Meets the Eye

At its core, “The Ref” isn’t just about a botched burglary. It delves into the complexities of relationships, the societal pressures of the holidays, and the idea that sometimes, external perspectives (even from a criminal!) can offer clarity. It’s a film that prompts viewers to reflect on their relationships, all while doubling over with laughter.

Cultural Impact – A Cult Classic

While “The Ref” didn’t top box office charts upon release, it has since gained a devoted following. Its unique blend of humor, heart, and holiday spirit makes it a must-watch for those tired of traditional Christmas fare. “The Ref” serves as a delightful reminder that sometimes, the best moments arise from the most unexpected situations. While most of us won’t experience a Christmas quite like the Chasseurs’, this film is a testament to the fact that humor can be found in the darkest of times. It’s a festive rollercoaster ride that manages to both entertain and offer poignant insights into love, family, and the chaos that often accompanies the holidays. So, next time you’re looking for a Yuletide film with a twist, give “The Ref” a whirl – it’s a gift that keeps on giving!

Related post

Leave a Reply