REVIEW – The Ref
Produced by: Ron Bozman, Richard LaGravenese, Jeffrey Weiss
Written by: Richard LaGravenese, Marie Weiss
Edited by: Jeffrey Wolf
Cinematography by: Adam Kimmel
Music by: David A. Stewart
Starring: Denis Leary, Judy Davis, Kevin Spacey, Glynis Johns, Robert J. Steinmiller, Jr., Raymond J. Barry, Adam LeFevre, Christine Baranski, J.K. Simmons, Richard Bright
Bad Santa 2 not doing it for your angry Christmas comedy hankering this year? Yeah, I don’t blame you. That movie looked freaking horrible. And apparently is. I’m not spending money on it. Good riddance. Thank goodness a friend recommended a movie to me that fit the bill for such a bad craving. I mean, I could have seen the first again, too, but I’ve seen that before! And The Ref was right there on Netflix streaming, so…
Beginning on Christmas Eve, The Ref starts out in that most traditional of Christmas settings… er… marriage counselling. Considering how many families in Christmas movies are fundamentally dysfunctional, you might suppose that its central characters are at least ahead of the game, but it’s readily apparent that with Lloyd and Caroline Chasseur, sticking with their marriage is more like an endurance contest, and the prize at the end is bragging rights for being the one to not forfeit through divorce – or just outright killing the other. Caroline has already sought out another relationship previously, and Lloyd is far from letting her live it down, too. How much of his spite stems from genuine hurt and how much is just him rubbing it in her face how much closer he is to victory as a result of her unfaithfulness is unclear at this point. One thing’s for certain, though: neither of them is exactly in the Christmas spirit. The fact that the counselor holds sessions on the night of Christmas Eve suggests either a lack of thought on the part of filmmakers or that this particular session was an emergency situation. Considering that they have prior dinner plans that night with family, including Lloyd’s controlling mother and their troubled teenage son who’s visiting from military school, I’d like to just presume it’s the latter.
On the way home, however, the unhappy couple is carjacked by a temperamental serial burglar named Gus, who’s just ransacked a series of homes in their classy neighborhood. He forces them to take him to their home, where he ties them up and waits for his accomplice to set up a getaway. Unfortunately for Gus, the Chasseurs remain far more concerned about trading barbs with one another, even blaming each other for their current predicament – she’s allegedly falling for Gus, while he’s apparently just not man enough to stand up to him. It quickly becomes clear that time spent with the Chasseurs is time more easily endured behind bars. Frustrated, Gus finds himself inadvertently becoming their marriage counselor, if only to just shut them the hell up. Will his unorthodox methods prove to be just what their relationship needed, though?
The Ref is a nice showcase for Denis Leary’s particular brand of comedy – angry, insulting lines that have very little patience for the assholes he’s forced to share air with. This can (and does) get old elsewhere, but here in The Ref, it’s balanced out = by Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis’ upper-middleclass wasps with plenty to say. It’s a nice mix of deadpan, dry delivery with Leary’s barely contained, seething rage as he awaits his escape. A switch up in the predicament later on, when the Chasseurs’ extended family – including the domineering matriarch of the family – also inspires some solid cringe comedy and changes up the character interactions while moving the story forward. It’s not a laugh riot, but it’ll leave you with a big smirk on your face throughout.
If I had one complaint, it’s the underdevelopment of the Chasseurs’ teenage son’s story. While his anxieties over his parents’ relationship does eventually intersect with theirs in the end, the character himself feels underdeveloped as a result of the film itself also sidelining him for a large part of the film. The subplot about his blackmailing a teacher is nearly superfluous – though that may just be the fact that J.K. Simmons feels like so much larger a presence today than the role he was afforded back in 1994. At least the drunken Santa and incompetent police side stories, the latter featuring an amusing and understated performance from Raymond J. Barry, are funny enough to not feel quite so tacked on as the arguably more important son. (As I selected images for this review, I was reminded that it’s also not a terribly unique nor especially pretty movie to look at, but it gets the job done, so whatever…)
Still, there’s not much to outright dislike about The Ref, so long as you’re into this type of uncomfortable, mean-spirited type of humor, and I really do think it’s a safe bet to say that those who enjoyed the first Bad Santa may very well enjoy this one, to some degree, too. And even if you didn’t but were expecting to, The Ref is worth a look. Like the friend who recommended this, you may find it on your nice list of films to watch every year when Christmastime comes around again.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 3.5 / 5