The Ref

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The Ref
Ref ver1.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTed Demme
Written by
Produced by
CinematographyAdam Kimmel
Edited byJeffrey Wolf
Music byDavid A. Stewart
Distributed byBuena Vista Pictures
Release date
  • March 11, 1994 (1994-03-11)
Running time
97 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$11 million[1]

The Ref (Hostile Hostages in some countries) is a 1994 American black comedy film directed by Ted Demme, starring Denis Leary, Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey.


In a charming Connecticut village, Lloyd and Caroline Chasseur (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) are in marriage counseling on Christmas Eve; the session does not go well. Caroline has had an affair, and Lloyd is miserable and blames the problems with their son, Jesse (Robert J. Steinmiller Jr.), on his wife. The marriage counselor, Dr. Wong (B.D. Wong), tries to get them to open up, but refuses to intercede on either side.

Meanwhile, a criminal named Gus (Denis Leary) is in the midst of burgling a home. However his getaway car, driven by his bumbling partner Murray (Richard Bright), is gone. He runs into Lloyd and Caroline, holds a gun on them and orders the couple to drive him to their house. Along the way Caroline and Lloyd continue to argue, with Gus acting as referee.



Richard LaGravenese co-wrote the film with his sister-in-law Marie Weiss.[4] It was inspired by their families. For example, the dinner scene: "Both Marie and I are Italian Catholics who married into Jewish families, so we do have those big holiday dinners," LaGravenese said.[5] Weiss began writing the script in 1989 after she and her husband moved from New York to California. Inspiration came from an argument she had with him and she thought, "Wouldn't it be great if there were a third party to step in and referee?"[5] She wrote several drafts and consulted with LaGravenese in 1991 and they took it to Disney. The studio approved the project within 20 minutes. LaGravenese spent a year revising the script until he finally got "tired of doing rewrites for executives."[5]

After Ted Demme directed comedian Denis Leary in No Cure for Cancer, a stand-up comedy special for Showtime, they got the script for The Ref and decided to do it.[4] The studio cast Leary based on the sarcastic funny-man persona he cultivated in MTV spots that Demme directed.[6] Leary joined the project as part of a three-picture deal with Disney.[7] Their involvement motivated LaGravenese to come back to the project.[5] Executive producer Don Simpson described the overall tone of The Ref as "biting and sarcastic. Just my nature."[8]

After test audiences responded poorly to the film's original ending—Gus turned himself in to show Jesse that a life of crime leads nowhere quickly—a new ending was shot in January 1994.[5]


The Ref did not perform as well at the box office as Leary would have liked, and he blamed the studio's method of marketing it: "They did me like the MTV guy. And they shortchanged what the movie was all about."[9] The film grossed a total of only $11,439,193 at the domestic box office, after coming in at #4 opening weekend, behind Guarding Tess, Lightning Jack and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.[1] Leary made fun of himself in a humorous article written for a 1994 issue of Playboy where he pretends to interview Pope John Paul II: Leary asks the Pope if he has seen The Ref, and the Pope responds that he was told it was very vulgar, as evident by its unpopularity.

On Rotten Tomatoes the film has a "Certified Fresh" approval rating of 73% based on reviews from 55 critics, with an average rating of 6.5/10. The site's consensus is: "Undeniably uneven and too dark for some, The Ref nonetheless boasts strong turns from Denis Leary, Judy Davis, and Kevin Spacey, as well as a sharply funny script."[10]

Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars. He wrote, "Material like this is only as good as the acting and writing. The Ref is skillful in both areas."[11] Rolling Stone magazine's Peter Travers praised the performances of Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis: "They are combustibly funny, finding nuance even in nonsense. The script is crass; the actors never."[12] In her review for The New York Times, Caryn James praised Leary's performance: "For the first time he displays his appeal and potential as an actor instead of a comic with a sneering persona."[13] Glenn Kenny of Entertainment Weekly gave it a grade A−.[14]

Entertainment Weekly gave the film a "C-" rating, and Owen Gleiberman wrote, "The Ref is crushingly blunt-witted and monotonous in its celebration of domestic sadism."[15] In his review for The Washington Post, Hal Hinson criticized Leary's performance: "A stand-up comic trying to translate his impatient, hipster editorializing to the big screen, he doesn't have the modulation of a trained actor, only one speed (fast) and one mode of attack (loud)."[16]

The film was among 500 nominated for AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs list.[17]

Year-end lists[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b The Ref at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ Turan, Kenneth (1994-03-09). "MOVIE REVIEWS : 'The Ref ': Razor-Sharp : Anchored by expert performances and a biting script and direction, the Touchstone release carries a mean verbal stiletto". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2019-12-28.
  3. ^ "The Ref". TV Guide. Retrieved 2019-12-28.
  4. ^ a b Rea, Stephen (March 14, 1994). "Denis Leary Gunning for the Top". The Philadelphia Inquirer. pp. E05.
  5. ^ a b c d e Hornaday, Ann (March 27, 1994). "Still Speaking After Writing The Ref". The New York Times. p. 19. Archived from the original on 2015-03-13.
  6. ^ Green, Tom (March 14, 1994). "Denis Leary Changes his Act". USA Today. pp. 1D.
  7. ^ Kate Meyers (March 25, 1994). "Denis Leary takes it to Hollywood". Entertainment Weekly.
  8. ^ Weinraub, Bernard (March 14, 1994). "Simpson and Bruckheimer, Part 2". The New York Times. p. 11. Archived from the original on 2012-11-05.
  9. ^ Thompson, Bob (March 29, 1994). "King Leary". Toronto Sun. p. 55.
  10. ^ The Ref at Rotten Tomatoes
  11. ^ Ebert, Roger (March 11, 1994). "The Ref". Chicago Sun-Times. Sun-Times Media Group. Archived from the original on October 4, 1999.
  12. ^ Travers, Peter (March 9, 1994). "The Ref". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 2020-05-04.
  13. ^ James, Caryn (March 9, 1994). "Reviews/Film: The Ref; A Christmas That Upends Christmas". The New York Times. New York City. Archived from the original on 2015-05-26.
  14. ^ Glenn Kenny (August 5, 1994). "The Ref". Entertainment Weekly.
  15. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (March 18, 1994). "The Ref". Entertainment Weekly. New York City: Meredith Corporation.
  16. ^ Hinson, Hal (March 12, 1994). "The Ref". The Washington Post. Washington DC: Nash Holdings LLC.
  17. ^ "List of 500 Movies Nominated for the Top 100 Funniest American Movies" (PDF). American Film Institute. 2006-09-26. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2019-08-11. Retrieved 2019-12-28.
  18. ^ Pickle, Betsy (December 30, 1994). "Searching for the Top 10... Whenever They May Be". Knoxville News-Sentinel. p. 3.
  19. ^ King, Dennis (December 25, 1994). "SCREEN SAVERS In a Year of Faulty Epics, The Oddest Little Movies Made The Biggest Impact". Tulsa World (Final Home ed.). p. E1.
  20. ^ P. Means, Sean (January 1, 1995). "'Pulp and Circumstance' After the Rise of Quentin Tarantino, Hollywood Would Never Be the Same". The Salt Lake Tribune (Final ed.). p. E1.
  21. ^ Arnold, William (December 30, 1994). "'94 Movies: Best and Worst". Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Final ed.). p. 20.
  22. ^ Craft, Dan (December 30, 1994). "Success, Failure and a Lot of In-between; Movies '94". The Pantagraph. p. B1.

External links[edit]