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Reviewed March 5th, 2003 by David Nusair


The Ref is a really bizarre amalgam of outlandish comedy and searing family drama, but it works Ė mostly due to the high caliber of actor found within.

The film opens with thief Gus (Denis Leary) attempting to steal some expensive jewelry from a wealthy homeowner, but instead winds up sprayed with cat urine and left face-to-face with a mean dog. He manages to extricate himself from that delicate situation, and because of all the cops that are now after him, he is forced to take a couple hostage. But that turns out to be a big mistake, as said couple (played by Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) are perpetually arguing with each other and (as if that wasnít bad enough) theyíre expecting his family over for Christmas dinner.

The Ref is an exceedingly difficult movie to categorize, given that it comfortably leaps between comedy and drama throughout. But thatís exactly what makes the film so interesting; it hasnít been assembled by focus groups or a board of executives. Thereís a certain amount of uniqueness present in the movie, mostly due to the surprisingly adult and clever screenplay by Richard LaGravenese and Marie Weiss. No doubt a good portion of Learyís dialogue was improvised, though, as it contains a lot of snarky one-liners weíve come to expect from the former comic.

But the heart of the film is the odd dynamic between Spacey and Davis. Though they spend the majority of the movieís running time arguing, the core of their relationship is clearly based on a mutual respect for one another. And the two actors have never been better, particularly Spacey. Since heís become a movie star, Spaceyís been taking fewer chances and essentially playing safe characters. But thatís certainly not the case here, as Spaceyís performance deftly walks a fine line between comedy and tragedy. And, of course, some mention has to be made of Leary. Though heís essentially here to act as the catalyst that gets Spacey and Davis back on track, he provides the film with its biggest laughs (personal favorite: after eating a stale cookie shaped like Christ, he mutters ďJesusĒ under his breath).

The Ref is one of those movies that improves upon repeat viewings, since the first time youíll be a little shocked as to the way it jumped from comedy to drama. But give it another chance, and itíll certainly grow on you.

Audio: The Ref is presented with a 2.0 Dolby Surround audio track, and itís good. This is a film with dialogue (and lots of it) and the track is perfectly appropriate for that. This isnít anywhere close to be demo material, but really, how could it be?

Video: This non-anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer is nice, but why isnít it anamorphic? Isnít there some sort of a rule that all transfers are now supposed to be? Still, itís surprisingly free of film-related problems, so toss out that old videotape.

Extras: Not a single thing.

Conclusion: The Ref may not come with any extras, but the price is sure right Ė not to mention itís simply a great movie.


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