AKA Hostile Hostages.
Christmas is a very stressful time, let’s not try to deny it. Preparations being made for guests who are coming to eat, gifts being picked for loved ones, taking care not to overindulge on the spirits and tell everyone what you really think of them. If you’re the married couple played by Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis then you also have to deal with absolutely loathing your other half. Which is even more stress. And then there’s being taken hostage by a burglar on the run, played by Denis Leary. Yep, the stress just keeps building and building and Mr. Burglar soon realises that he should have picked a calmer household to plan his escape from.
A Christmas movie that provides both an antidote to the overdone sweetness and light of the holiday season and yet also manages to encapsulate the stresses of the time and the way in which we can, sometimes suddenly, be moved to appreciate what we actually have in our lives, The Ref is a solid movie and certainly one to watch for any admirers of the main cast members.
Leary is, unsurprisingly, on top form as he rants at his hostages while David and Spacey get plenty of choice dialogue moments and, in their own way, spit out enough venom and anger to equal anything that Leary throws their way. Robert J. Steinmiller is very good as the son reluctantly stuck with parents who can’t stand each other, Raymond J. Barry is wonderful in his limited role and Christine Baranski likewise.
Ted Demme directs things capably enough but never really elevates the material and perhaps that’s a deliberate move. The script, by Marie Weiss and Richard LaGravenese, is certainly good enough when it comes to the speeches and insults but it really could do with something else in the mix to stop things dragging slightly when the novelty factor of watching Christmas Vacation mixed with The War Of The Roses wears off. It’s hard to put a finger on the best way to improve the movie, and many others absolutely love it just as it is, but I couldn’t help thinking that it either needed some tighter editing or, although it may seem contradictory, an extended runtime to allow the final third to unfold in a way that feels just that bit less sudden and unhurried.
It’s still a very enjoyable, and offbeat, Christmas movie that should be watched by those who enjoyed the dark humour of Bad Santa, to pick just about the only example I could think of.
DIRECTOR: TED DEMME
WRITER: MARIE WEISS, RICHARD LAGRAVENESE
STARS: DENIS LEARY, KEVIN SPACEY, JUDY DAVIS, ROBERT J. STEINMILLER JR, J. K. SIMMONS, RAYMOND J. BARRY, CHRISTINE BARANSKI
RUNTIME: 93 MINS APPROX