Leary plays the fugitive with humor and seriousness in The Ref
Directed by Ted Demme.
Starring Denis Leary, Judy Davis,
and Kevin Spacey.
Loews Cheri.By Kamal Swamidoss
The Fugitive it isn't, but The Ref does okay in its own right. Denis Leary plays a man running from the law in this comedy by Ted Demme. After goofing up a burglary, Leary's character takes Caroline and Lloyd Chasseur (Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey) hostage while waiting for his escape. The film covers two hours of Leary's attempts to stay on top of his predicament.
One detail about the Chasseurs is striking: they can't stop fighting. How Leary handles their bickering is a part of the film's comedy. In the car or in the house, each complains about everything the other does. In response, Leary waves his gun around, makes threats, and ties them up, but nothing keeps them quiet for long. His situation is not helped by the arrival of the Chasseurs' son. Leary poses as Dr. Wong, the Chasseurs' marriage counselor, during the dinner with their in-laws.
The film is full of funny scenes, many of which are dominated by Leary, but there are also serious moments. For example, the son can't stand that his parents fight so much, and he wants to run away from home. He asks Leary to take him along in his escape, but Leary advises him to never start running. Also, during the dinner, Caroline and Lloyd reach the heart of their conflict and reveal to each other certain things about their relationship. The serious moments leave as suddenly as they come, however, and the characters soon return to their comedy.
Leary plays his part well. He's funny as a man trying to manage in a difficult situation. He holds the Chasseurs hostage and he carries a gun, but as Lloyd says, he's a thief, not a killer. For this reason, the hostage scenario doesn't suppress the comedy. Lloyd is forced to react to every new development and to every new character coming to the Chasseur house. This is the film's humor, but the transition from this to the film's theme is a bit rough.
It's hard to see why Leary gets so involved with the family. After noticing a painting by Chagall in their home, he makes a brief commentary about how well-off they are. Throughout the film he tells them, in his characteristically abrasive manner, that they have no reason to complain, that they have everything they need. He tries to convince the son to stay at home, and he explains why he lives the life he does. The messages come through, but they seem discontinuous with the rest of the film.
The Ref moves along at a good pace balancing humor and seriousness. The actors do well in their parts. The ending was completely unexpected as the film low-balls the viewer in the last few minutes. A word of caution: The Ref is filled with uncouth language, and there are places where the comedy is uncouth as well. This film is not for the meek of heart.