Denis Leary spreads some unorthodox Christmas cheer in this hilarious film.

Gus is a cat burglar who is in Connecticut for what is to be his final score before deciding to retire. However, when he ends up nearly booby-trapped in the house, he ends up getting bitten by the owner’s dog and even worse, his partner in crime has left him. Meanwhile, Lloyd and Caroline are a bickering couple on the verge of divorcing. As they prepare to spend Christmas Eve with family members, Gus takes the couple hostage.

While Lloyd and Caroline are taken hostage, their ickering proves to a bother for Gus, who finds Murray, the man who left him, and demands to find them a getaway vehicle. As Murray does his part, Lloyd and Caroline’s son Jesse, a con artist in his own right, returns home from military academy. While Gus takes Jesse hostage, the two form a bit of a bond but when the rest of the family arrives, Gus has no other choice but to pose as Lloyd and Caroline’s marriage counselor and keep Jesse hidden. It is then when everything is about to go from bad to worse!

This 1990’s comedy was made to capitalize on the fame of Denis Leary, who brings his hilarious antics in the role of Gus, a cat burglar on the verge of retirement who finds himself having to be the titular “ref” between the couple he has been forced to hold hostage. As Gus, Leary brings some of his trademark comebacks and grunts to the role and even has to use those skills to work against various members of the family when they arrive for Christmas Eve. And this is truly one dysfunctional family we are talking about here.

Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey, especially Spacey, comes off well as the bickering couple who make Gus’ life go from bad to worse. Davis is the neglected wife who feels her husband is only trying to make his mother happy and the heck with the rest of the family. Robert J. Steinmiller Jr. gives ample support in his screen time as Jesse, the teen con artist son of Lloyd and Caroline. He bonds with Gus even though Gus tries to convince him that the job is not it is cracked up to be. Glynis Johns is quite overbearing as the mother who always meddles in Lloyd and Caroline’s marriage, the catalyst for their bickering. Christine Baranski provides some comic relief as the dominant wife of Lloyd’s brother, who at one point even gets a tongue thrashing from Gus.

There is a running dialogue involving the character of George, who starts out as a nice Santa Claus for the community only to delve into a bit of a downward spiral of his own. While he is a minor character, the character of Murray provides even more reason for Gus to go off the deep end. After all, it is his leaving Gus in the lurches that is the cause for everything that happens in the movie. And yet it is so funny how Gus berates Murray when they even talk, especially in what has to be one of the funniest dialogues to end a movie, hands down.

The Ref is unlike any Christmas movie, but it is so funny thanks to Denis Leary and even Kevin Spacey, who gets a scene stealing performance that is just outright funny!


Touchstone Pictures presents a Simpson-Bruckheimer Films production. Director: Ted Demme. Producers: Richard LaGravenese and Jeff Weiss. Writer: Marie Weiss; story by Richard LaGravenese. Cinematography: Adam Kimmel. Editing: Jeffrey Wolf.

Cast: Denis Leary, Judy Davis, Kevin Spacey, Robert J. Steinmiller Jr., Glynis Johns, Raymond J. Barry, Richard Bright, Christine Baranski, Adam LeFevre, Ellie Raab, Phillip Nicoll, Bill Raymond.