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THE REF

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Denis Leary, Judy Davis, Kevin Spacey
Director: Ted Demme
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Disney/Touchstone
Features: None
Length: 97 Minutes
Release Date: March 4, 2003

ďIím in Hell. Connecticut is the fifth ring of Hell.Ē

Film ***1/2

The late Ted Demme was one of those rare filmmakers, like Barry Levinson, who was good at making just about any kind of genre movie. He mainly specialized in comedies, particularly those with a certain edge, and The Ref is just such a comedy. The movie never loses steam for a second, offering laugh out loud chuckles every few minutes, and a good line of dialogue in its it entirety, making the script one of the funniest and sharpest of any comedy of the last decade. Not only was The Ref, I think, Demme's best film, but I certainly find it to be one of the funniest movies ever made.

Set on Christmas Eve in a small Connecticut town, the story is set around the endless disaster that is the marriage of Caroline (Judy Davis) and Lloyd (Kevin Spacey). This couple epitomizes bitterness, as they specialize in non-stop arguments and temper tantrums. They can't even keep their cool during a visit with a marriage therapist in the riotous opening scene. Caroline admits to having an affair in the past, but Lloyd surprisingly still has faith in the marriage, even though she resents him for trying to live a married life while in servitude to his snotty mother.

Their night soon takes an unexpected turn when they cross paths with Gus (Denis Leary) a cat burglar who is on the run from the cops following an unsuccessful heist. He takes the couple hostage, and is indeed armed with a gun, but even Gus soon learns that even a menace like him can't hold a candle to the pain and suffering of the two's constant bickering. Even when they are each tied to a chair, they continue to fight, forgetting at times that Gus is even in the same room. In fact, it seems that every time Gus threatens them, the predicament grows even more unbearable.

Gus is clearly at the breaking point, waiting to hear from his deadbeat partner whoís scouting for a getaway source, but his current status is nothing compared to what it will eventually escalate to when the bitter relatives arrive for Christmas dinner. The only possible way out for Gus is to pose as the coupleís marriage counselor, whose name happens to be Dr. Wong, and Gus isnít much of a Wong-type. The dinner scene is quite simply one of the funniest scenes in the history of cinema, as issues of adultery and lying replace the normal talk of issues during a Christmas gathering.

Above anything else, this movie belongs, first and foremost, to Denis Leary. Prior to making movies, Leary was one of the top rising stand up comics on the scene, and his energy and edge both make him, to me, one of the funniest men of all time. Those who are familiar with Learyís comic acts will note that he can talk at a rampant speed that might even put the likes of Robin Williams to shame. With his breakthrough role in The Ref, Leary was able to take that razor sharp persona and apply it to a character whoís about ready to explode as a result of the situation heís found himself in. There isnít a single line from him that doesnít induce even the slightest chuckle. Even with the casting of Kevin Spacey, who a rising actor at the time, Leary manages to steal the show. He and Ted Demme would later reunite for a much different movie, the 1998 powerful drama, Monument Ave.

Everyone has their own personal comedy favorite where every scene and line sticks with them for life. For me, that movie is The Ref. Iíve gotten many friends to discover this movie over the past few years, and now that itís finally hit DVD, I hope to have many more friends and acquaintances discover it and laugh as hard as I did the first time I saw it.

Video **1/2

Generally, this isnít all that bad a transfer from Disney, but I do have one question. Why did it not get the anamorphic touch? In the last few years, I donít think Iíve come across a single disc from the studio that wasnít presented in the right anamorphic way. My guess is that the disc had already been completed, and was set for release long ago when Disney was paving the way for non-anamorphic releases, and had simply been delayed. Having said that, this was actually a very acceptable presentation, as I found the picture to be clear for the most part, and colors very natural, as well.

Audio ***

For a dialogue driven comedy, The Ref has been given a noteworthy 5.1 audio touch. I had seen the movie many times prior to the DVD, and didnít expect the good sound range that was presented. Some numerous physical comedy bits play out very well, in addition. Overall, an impressive disc that will surprise you in a few areas.

Features (Zero Stars)

Nothing.

Summary:

As far as comedies go, The Ref is a reigning classic. Nearly ten years after my first view of this riot of a movie, I still laugh hard with every additional viewing.