The Ref (1994)

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Released 1-Oct-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1994
Running Time 92:38
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Ted Demme

Walt Disney Studios Home Ent.
Starring Denis Leary
Judy Davis
Kevin Spacey
Robert J. Steinmiller Jr.
Glynis Johns
Raymond J. Barry
Richard Bright
Christine Baranski
Adam LeFevre
Phillip Nicoll
Ellie Raab
Bill Raymond
John Scurti
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $24.95 Music David A. Stewart

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Spanish Titling
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

     Ah, Christmas. The time of holly and holy nights and peace on earth, goodwill and happy family gatherings. Unless you're the Chasseur family. (That's pronounced "'Show-sewer' - it's 18th century French Huguenot.") One burglar out on the prowl on Christmas Eve in a Norman Rockwell-type town in Connecticut is about to have a very big encounter with Lloyd and Caroline Chasseur's family and he's going to need something much more impressive than his gun to survive the experience!

     Denis Leary plays Gus - a professional criminal who's trying to pull the big heist that will allow him to finally retire. His attempts at robbing a mansion are foiled by an elaborate booby trap which finds him dog bitten, liberally sprayed with cat urine, empty handed and without transport when his bumbling accomplice flees the scene. In a desperate bid to find a haven to give him time to figure out what to do next, he hijacks the Chasseurs on their way home from a disastrous marriage guidance session. Gus quickly realises that he may have just created another problem for himself, when on the drive, Lloyd (Kevin Spacey) and Caroline (Judy Davis) almost forget their peril at being held at gunpoint in the heat of their intense bickering. "I hijacked my f***ing parents!" he exclaims as he finds himself being drawn into mediation between the two.

     The complications rapidly escalate once they're all at home. This is Christmas Eve and Caroline and Lloyd are expecting the arrival of their son, Jesse (Robert J. Steinmiller Jr) from military school, and an assortment of relatives for dinner. Gus is desperate to play for time, but keeping control of this collection of twisted souls is proving more challenging than his resources can withstand. When it is impossible to conceal himself from the assembly of relatives, Gus decides to truss up young Jesse, himself a dab hand at extortion and petty crime, and masquerade at the dinner party from hell as Caroline and Lloyd's marriage counsellor. His attempted ruse withers hopelessly under the bitter scrutiny of Mother Rose (an interesting role for Glynis Johns, so loved by generations as Mother Banks in Mary Poppins), sister in law Connie (Christine Baranski, who plays these edgy, bitter characters supremely well), and brother Gary (Adam LeFevre). Some of the most excruciatingly funny scenes in this film are those around the dinner table, as Caroline launches into the sickest Christmas fable ever told, Mother Rose manipulates and belittles and carps at every family member, and Connie tries to wrest attention for herself.

     The Ref has some genuinely funny moments. The opening acts of the film are less successful - the bumbling cops in particular are a little twee for my taste, and the physical comedy starts out a little histrionically. However, once we get to the dinner scenes, and the pantomime element slowly recedes, the performances become much better tuned and subtle, and the true comedy starts to develop.

     Director Ted Demme set himself a challenging task with this film. When there is not a single sympathetic character in the story, it is a fine balancing act to engage the audience's ongoing interest. He has largely achieved this by keeping a firm hand on the pacing of each scene. It doesn't always work, and some of the segue scenes chop into the pacing at times, but the more subtle moments of the family assembled and firing off each other work really well.

     Without doubt, his master stroke was engaging Spacey and Davis for this piece. This was prior to Spacey's major recognition as an A list actor, but all the elements are 100% there. Both these actors are intelligent, articulate and completely emotionally transparent. They manage to create a couple who have serious problems yet also a deeply embedded spark of love between them. Initially, I felt that Denis Leary was not quite keeping up with this august pair, but the gap narrowed as the film developed. Glynis Johns appeared to be having a fine time playing the utterly wretched mother.

     Although patchy in places, The Ref certainly provides an antidote to all the sugary sentiment of the festive season. It liberally exposes what normally remain hidden tensions when families gather, and induces winces of recognition in doing so. The ending is a little unimaginative, making it feel like Demme was mindful of time constraints and just drew all the threads quickly together but, if you like your comedy on the dark side, you may very well have a chortle or two here.

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Transfer Quality


     The disc is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 but is not 16x9 enhanced.

     The transfer is reasonably sharp with good shadow detail and reasonable contrast levels. There was a mild amount of low level noise but the grain levels were mostly fine.

     The colours were more muted than I expected which provided a rather flat colour palette. There was some chroma blocking in the background, though not sufficient to distract.

     There is an amount of dot crawl in the credits and minor aliasing, but overall, it's a clean transfer. There are a few film artefacts, and at times the dust marks and scratches do annoy, but it's not consistent throughout the film.

     Subtitles are clean, legible and well timed.

     This disc is single layered with no layer change to contend with.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     There are two audio tracks on this DVD - English and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. I listened to the English soundtrack only.

    The dialogue was mostly clear, although its persistence in the central speaker only gave it a very one dimensional aural atmosphere. There was a slight delay in audio sync, but I've seen much worse.

     The musical score by David A. Stewart made very little impact on me. It served the action but did not create much of a stand-alone impression.

     The surround channels were left largely with little to do, providing little in terms of ambient sound. The subwoofer however, was surprisingly busy and at times was a little distracting.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     There are no extras on this disc.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

      The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on:

     The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on:

     There is no compelling reason to prefer one version over the other, although given that both versions are not 16x9 enhanced, it is likely that the R4 version will look significantly better than the R1 version.


     If you like your comedy served black and bitter, then there'll be plenty in The Ref to keep you entertained. Though patchy in parts, it has enough substance to amuse, and occasionally laugh out loud.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Mirella Roche-Parker (read my bio)
Friday, January 02, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDSinger SGD-001, using S-Video output
DisplayTeac 76cm Widescreen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationTeac 5.1 integrated system
SpeakersTeac 5.1 integrated system

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