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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Ref
The Ref
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // R // March 4, 2003
List Price: $9.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted March 1, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

A dark, bitterly funny 1994 comedy, "The Ref" is similar to "War of the Roses" in the fact that movies this mean-spirited really don't get made anymore. The film focuses on Lloyd and Caroline Chasseur (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis), a wealthy couple in the middle of a brutal arguement with their therapist. Divorce seems inevitable, but the two are going to fight it out till the last moment before the papers are signed.

Elsewhere, Gus (Denis Leary) finds himself trapped when he runs into a particularly creative alarm system in a Connecticut mansion. He gets out, but not before being attacked by the home's guard dog. Escaping into the neighborhood, he decides to take Lloyd and Caroline hostage - bad choice. Even though one might suspect that Gus would have control of the situation, he finds himself having difficulty getting the attention of the couple in front of him, who continue to argue fiercely into the night. To make matters worse, the Chasseur's son (Robert J. Steinmiller, Jr.), their relatives and others are on their way over for Christmas Eve.

"The Ref" has become a cult hit thanks to several reasons. While superbly directed by the late Ted Demme (who also directed Leary's 1992 concert film), the film is also working from a terrific screenplay by Richard LaGravenese ("The Horse Whisperer", "Bridges of Madison County") and Marie Weiss. The film also boasts a terrific cast; Spacey and Davis do a convincing job with the transition from bickering to loving, while Leary underplays the anger perfectly. There's a hilarious moment where Davis goes through a wealth of personal problems and arguements before Leary finally interrupts with, "What are we, girlfriends?". Although the concept of bumbling police officers is nothing new, there's a particularly funny scene here where the local cops badly mishandle a crucial piece of videotape evidence.

"The Ref" obviously isn't a substancial look at the difficulties of marriage. It doesn't intend to be, nor could it really be at 97 minutes. However, with the script by LaGravenese and Weiss, the film manages to insert some nice emotional moments in the movie without taking away from the edgy, dark tone. After not seeing the film for about five years, "The Ref" still stands up wonderfully, with three solid lead performances and some lines that remain absolutely hilarious. Surprisingly, this film was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, famous for films like "Armageddon", "The Rock" and "Top Gun".


The DVD

VIDEO: "The Ref" is presented in 1.85:1 non-anamorphic widescreen on a single-layer disc. The presentation is merely okay. Sharpness and detail are standard, with decent detail and the occasional hint of softness.

Flaws do intrude on occsion throughout the film, although the presentation does start to clear up - although not entirely - after an iffy first few minutes. Most of the remainder looks crisp and clean, but the occasional speck or mark does show up in a handful of scenes. Some subtle edge enhancement was spotted in a few scenes, but it never became much of an issue. A minor compression artifact or two were also seen.

Colors were nicely rendered, with warm tones and no smearing. Black level also remained solid, while flesh tones looked accurate. It's unfortunate that more care couldn't have been given to the presentation, but for a non-anamorphic presentation, it doesn't look too bad.

SOUND: "The Ref" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Although the presentation is supposedly 5.1, there are really no instances of surround use throughout the picture. The audio is definitely front-heavy, focusing, as expected, on the dialogue. David A. Stewart's score also gets minimal presence in the front speakers.

EXTRAS: Nothing.

Final Thoughts: A darkly funny comedy, "The Ref" offers great performances, some terrific laughs and a nice balance of comedy and drama. Disney's DVD edition offers a fairly good (but unfortunately non-anamorphic) widescreen presentation, decent audio and no supplements. Still, fans may want to consider a purchase, as the disc can be found for $14.95 or less.

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