Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer’s first production for Disney is a high-concept comedy [from a screen story by co-scripter Marie Weiss] that mixes O. Henry’s chestnut Ransom of Red Chief with touches of Home Alone and Bunuel’s Exterminating Angel. The Ref mines a few laughs from the case of a high-strung cat burglar named Gus (Denis Leary), who, after a bungled second-storey job on Christmas Eve, grabs Connecticut yuppie couple Caroline (Judy Davis) and Lloyd (Kevin Spacey) as hostages while he plots his escape.
The plot-driving problem is that these are two of the most grating, unrelentingly angry neurotics one could find in this otherwise placid L.L. Bean-couture paradise. Gus essentially becomes hostage to their bickering, as his hapless, largely off-screen partner in crime, Murray (Richard Bright), tries over the course of the evening to get an escape plan under way.
Co-scripted and co-produced by Richard LaGravenese, whose The Fisher King screenplay also mixed up seemingly disparate elements of black humor, contemporary social and psychological dysfunction with a life-affirming fade-out, The Ref works virtually none of the miracles of his previous mix ‘n’ match effort.
Davis is essentially retreading her earlier shrewish role in Woody Allen’s corrosive Husbands and Wives, while Spacey fills out his milquetoast-becomes-a-man role serviceably.