The Ref

Dennis Leary, Kevin Spacey

Directed by Ted Demme
Rolling Stone: star rating
5 0
Community: star rating
5 0 0
March 9, 1994

Acerbic funnyman Denis Leary gets to show a softer, sexier side in this comedy of marital errors. It's about time. Leary played a psycho killer in Judgment Night, a psycho rebel in Demolition Man and a psycho stepfather in The Sandlot — you kept thinking he was going to whack the kid for stealing his Babe Ruth-autographed baseball. In The Ref, Leary plays a sleek cat burglar named Gus. He's not Cary Grant exactly — it's hard to recall Grant calling anyone a "fucking cock-sucker" — but Gus has a rep for clean getaways and a touching yen to go straight.

On Christmas Eve, while Gus is robbing an estate in Connecticut, an alarm goes off. The cops drop a net around the neighborhood. That's when Gus makes the mistake of taking refuge in the home of a married couple he's holding hostage. Lloyd Chasseur (Kevin Spacey) and his wife, Carolyn (Judy Davis), never stop arguing Any topic will do — his limp dick, her huge sexual appetite. Gus can't shut these vipers up. He pulls a gun, they bicker. He threatens their student son, Jesse (Robert J. Steinmiller, Jr.), they bicker. He threatens Lloyd's tyrannical mother, Rose (Glynis Johns), who shows, up with the family tribe for holiday dinner, they bicker. This nightmare couple can't communicate without a ref. To save his ass, Gus is forced to play marriage counselor.

That's the joke — the only one — and screenwriters Richard LaGravenese and Marie Weiss stretch it to the breaking point before The Ref calls it quits. Director Ted Demme (Jonathan Demme's nephew) compensates with a whiplash pace that suggests the cutthroat fun of Ruthless People. The Ref unproves on the director's awkward debut film, Who's the Man?, which starred Ed Lover and Dr. Dre, the hosts of Ted Demme's Yo! MTV Raps.

Demme brings out the comic ease in Leary, whose concert film, No Cure for Cancer, he directed. But the real luck is getting Davis (Husbands and Wires) and Spacey (Glengarry Glen Ross) to class up this trash. They are combustibly funny, finding nuance even in nonsense. The script is crass; the actors never. They keep The Ref from going down for the count.

Movie Review Main Next


Community Guidelines »
loading comments

loading comments...


Sort by:
    Read More

    Movie Reviews

    More Reviews »
    Around the Web
    Powered By ZergNet
    Daily Newsletter

    Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

    Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
    marketing partners.


    We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

    Song Stories


    The Commodores | 1984

    The year after soul legends Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson died, songwriter Dennis Lambert asked members of the Commodores to give him a tape of ideas. "And the one from Walter Orange has this wonderful bass line," said co-writer Franne Golde. "Plus the lyric, 'Marvin, he was a friend of mine' ... Within 10 minutes, we had decided it should be something like a modern R&B version of 'Rock 'n' Roll Heaven,' and I just said, 'Nightshift.'" This tribute to the recently deceased musicians was the band's only hit without Lionel Richie, who had left for a solo career.

    More Song Stories entries »