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Film / The Ref

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"I've hijacked my fucking parents..."

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

Leary plays Gus, a cat burglar who breaks into the house of a millionaire in the hopes of pulling off a job that will let him retire, but he gets tripped up by an... eccentric trap and suddenly has to hide out from the bungling local cops until his partner Murray can secure a way to escape after the entire area is put on alert. To avoid the police patrolling the streets, Gus takes Lloyd and Caroline Chasseur (a highly dysfunctional middle class suburban couple) hostage so he can hide out in their home until the escape is ready. There are just two problems; 1) Lloyd and Caroline are so dysfunctional and angry with each other that they would rather fight than pay any attention to Gus, and 2) it's Christmas Eve and everyone from Lloyd and Caroline's bright delinquent son Jesse (Robert J. Steinmiller Jr.) to their whole extended family is coming over for dinner. (And since this is 1994 and cell phones are very far from common, there's no way to call the Christmas dinner off.)

Hilarity Ensues.

When Murray can't arrange an escape prior to the extended family arriving, Gus gets Lloyd and Caroline to pass him off as their therapist so he can continue hiding from the cops and make sure they won't blow his cover. However, with all the nasty, petty resentments rising to the surface within the family, it's quite likely that Gus' rapidly dwindling sanity will run out before he can get out of town.


  • 555: The number to Lloyd's house, as reported by Gus. Also, Winslow Harbors.
  • An Aesop: The movie pulls no punches in showing just how damaging an overly-privileged lifestyle can be, namely how using money to solve all of your problems results in you bottling up your emotions until you and your family are incapable of communicating them to one another, leaving you all in a toxic enforcement that you can't escape from.
  • Angry Guard Dog: A rottweiler. Named Cannibal.
  • Asshole Victim: Lloyd and Caroline at first, and Lloyd's mother at the end.
  • Aww Look They Really Do Love Each Other: Lloyd and Caroline get a few moments like this, most notably in their final scene together.
  • Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: The entire local police force is like this, except Da Chief. The most notable example of their stupidity comes when they accidentally record over the footage from the house security camera with a part of It's a Wonderful Life.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: Lloyd's family embodies this trope and then some. Lloyd is a spineless mama's boy who goes crying back to her when things don't go his way, his son is a juvenile delinquent, and his brother is just as bad and married to an annoying shrew of a woman who walks all over him. The brother and shrew do have some well-adjusted kids, though.
  • Blackmail: Jesse's latest scheme is blackmailing the head of his military school.
  • Black Sheep: Lloyd and Caroline's son Jesse is the family's black sheep.
  • Booby Trap: The sort that sprays you with cat urine, opens a trap door under your feet, and sends you down a chute where you crash right in front of a very large guard dog. Interesting security there...
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Lloyd and Caroline are demonstrated to each play a part in their unhappy marriage: Caroline points out that Lloyd is a spineless mama's boy who gives up too easily in the face of adversity and is too scared to actually make any meaningful changes that would make him happier, but Lloyd fires back that Caroline is stubborn, flighty, and over-romanticizes the past to keep from accepting any responsibility for how their lives turned out.
    • Gus and Lloyd get into a debate over how each led their lives: Gus is disgusted that Lloyd is unhappy despite living an idyllic life of wealth, but Lloyd in his own turn expresses disgust at Gus leading a carefree (to his view) criminal lifestyle and points out his own life has its own trials.
    Gus: I hate guys like you, you know, with your Jeep Grand Cherokees and your Nicaraguan maids and your ping-zing golf clubs. Every goddamn thing in the world handed to you. Life just bores the shit outta you people. Well, I'm sorry. We don't all have rich mommies and daddies we can live off of or open restaurants when we get bored playing tennis.
    Lloyd: You know, you and my wife have a lot in common. You both think you have some right to life working out the way you want it to, and when it doesn't, you get to act the way you want. The only trouble with that is someone has to be responsible. I'd love to run around and take classes and play with my inner-self! I'd love the freedom to be some pissed-off criminal with no responsibilities! Except I don't have the time! But you don't see me with a gun. And you don't see me sleeping with someone else. You think my life turned out the way I wanted because I live in this house? You think every morning I wake up, look in the mirror and say "Gee, I'm glad I'm me and not some 19-year-old billionaire rockstar with the body of an athlete and a 24-hour erection!" No I don't! So just excuse the shit out of me!
  • Bound and Gagged: Aside from Gus and Lloyd's niece and nephew, just about every single character spends part of the movie in this state.
  • Brick Joke: The baby Jesus from the nativity scene. The very first words of the movie are the children looking at the display, and noting that someone stole the baby Jesus. Later on George mentions to Carolyn to ask Jesse if he knows what happened to it (followed by her complaining to Gus that people blame Jesse for everything), and finally Gus finds it in a trunk in Jesse's room.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Jesse is highly intelligent but has little interest in doing well in school.
  • Brutal Honesty: Gus is completely unwilling to put up with the Chasseur's bullshit, and bluntly calls all of them out at various points throughout the film. Ironically, his willingness to cut to the heart of a problem means he does a better job of helping Lloyd and Caroline air their grievances with each other than their actual therapist.
  • Children Are Innocent: Subverted, as Gary and Connie's two kids are hugely entertained by the spectacle of their adult family members descending into profanity-laced tirades against each other, and even gleefully help Gus gag their (admittedly evil) grandmother.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Gus' tirade at the end of the film. This trope could apply to the whole film as well.
  • The Dog Bites Back:
    • Lloyd and Caroline are anything but meek hostages towards Gus. This can also apply to when Lloyd's family turns on his mother at the end, Lloyd's sister-in-law even going so far as to give Gus permission to shoot her.
    • Also the town Santa, who turns out to be a mean drunk.
    • Being fired wouldn't be so bad, if most of us had a comeback available like the one Lt. Huff does.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Lloyd and Gus. Just look at who they're played by.
  • Dysfunction Junction: ... oooooh boy. There is a lot of this going on with the Chasseur family.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Pretty much every character in relation to Madame Chasseur, no matter how unlikeable or criminal themselves. Even the shrewish Connie rescues herself from the scrappy heap when she finally snaps and turns on her mother-in-law. "Slipper socks! Medium!". Gus also makes clear he hates parents who treat their children badly, whether it's Lloyd's mother emotional dominance or Connie outright hitting her son John, which gets Lloyd to threaten to do the same to her should she do so again.
  • Everyone Hates Fruit Cakes: The town Santa goes door to door giving away home-made fruitcakes. The Chasseurs throw it away the moment he leaves.
  • Evil Debt Collector: Caroline regards Lloyd's mother as this due to the fact that they're living in her house and paying her rent. When Lloyd gives her the next payment, she even remarks "we'll have to see what happens with interest rates in the new year." Even Gus calls her out on this, saying that he knows Loan Sharks more forgiving and generous than her. It's worth noting that she is apparently charging Lloyd 18% interest on the loan she made him.
  • Evil Matriarch: Lloyd's mother is the head of the Chasseur family, and seems to almost take pleasure in being awful to the rest of her family.
  • Gentle Touch vs. Firm Hand: Dr. Wong, the Chasseur's real marriage counselor and Gus act as this, with Gus' method being more effective: Dr. Wong is soft-spoken, ponderous, and refuses to take sides, which is the professional thing to do but allows the deeply dysfunctional and argumentative Lloyd and Caroline to walk all over him; while Gus' forceful domination of them and his absolute refusal to put up with their bullshit forces them to actually admit their faults and address the real problems in their marriage.
  • High-School Hustler: There are very strong hints that Jesse was a less than lighthearted version of this trope, and this along with other Delinquent tendencies are what caused Lloyd to send Jesse to military school. Jesse responded by photographing the commandant of his school in the midst of an affair and blackmailing the guy.
  • Hot-Blooded: When he can keep his head, Gus is a fairly intelligent Deadpan Snarker. Unfortunately for Gus, most of the time his temper is getting the better of him, and he responds by lashing out at anything nearby and only causes more chaos in doing so.
  • Ignored Enemy: Gus often winds up being the ignored one so other people can argue and fight, usually over rather petty issues. This generally only ends when he pulls out his gun.
  • It's All My Fault: Lloyd says this sarcastically during his climactic speech at the Christmas tree, when he calls Caroline out for being just as much to blame for the state of their marriage as he is due to her indecisiveness, her desire to live beyond her means, and forcing him to make all the tough decisions in their lives:
    Lloyd: I told you what moving here could mean, but you were the one who said we should consider it! Not the actual moving, just the considering. The actual moving in part was left to me! Why? Because you didn't know what to do. You were... confused; you didn't know if it was the right thing. But you were sure as hell sick and tired of living in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City, so don't hand me that 'it was the best of times' bullshit! You didn't want to work anymore and you didn't want any help with the baby because you wanted to do it all by yourself! And you hated New York because we weren't as rich as your college friends were to enjoy it! We couldn't afford a bigger place, and you were miserable being around people who could! AND... we were up to our EARS in debt! But moving here was my decision! RIGHT! And the loan was the same situation!
  • Jerkass: Lloyd's mother. While everyone else is varying degrees of flawed, she's the one one who's a complete, unapologetic bitch.
    Gus: Lady, your husband ain't dead. He's hiding.
    • Jerkass Has a Point: Lloyd's mother is irredeemably awful, but she's not wrong about Gus being a "scared little boy" unable to deal with the real world underneath his aggressive exterior. Gus knows it, too; it's why he gets so mad.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Gus shows sign of this at times.
  • Laughing Mad: When Gus finally gets Murray on the phone, Murray explains that he's hooked up with a woman on a boat that they can use to get out of town. Except the boat has some mechanical problems. Gus abruptly drops the phone to his side and just starts laughing while holding his other hand over his face. Considering that Gus is a very short-tempered Deadpan Snarker, it's quite clear his stay with the family has started to wear on his sanity.
  • Lethal Chef: Apparently Caroline. The rest of the family stops to eat dinner before getting to her house so they won't have to eat any more of her cooking than they have to. Part of the problem is that she appears to specialize in Scandinavian Foreign Queasine.
  • Mama Bear: Connie. Her first hint of open defiance towards "Mother Rose" (whom she's been sucking up to the entire movie) occurs in response to a jab at her son's weight. Not that it stops her kids from gagging her with duct tape later.
  • Momma's Boy: Lloyd, big time. It's implied that he has spent his whole life being abused and broken down by his mother, but he continues to be a dutiful son and try to stay in her good graces/win her affection... until the end of the film when he finally snaps at her.
  • Motor Mouth: Gus as is standard for anyone played by Denis Leary.
  • My Beloved Smother: Lloyd and his brother are living, breathing examples of this trope... at first.
  • Never Trust a Title: The title implies something sports-related, and the holiday setting suggests something happy, but the movie is about as black a comedy as one will find from mainstream Hollywood. The eponymous character is a cat burglar who kidnaps a dysfunctional married couple in an attempt to evade a manhunt and winds up having to "referee" their bickering while he plots his escape. In retrospect, the title fits, but a first-time viewer would have no idea what to expect.
    • Averted in some countries, where the film went by the more straightforward title "Hostile Hostages" instead.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Caroline definitely has one for her and Lloyd's days as a young couple in New York City. As seen in the quote under It's All My Fault, Lloyd finally calls her on it.
  • Old Shame: In-universe, Lloyd's ill-fated restaurant is this to him.
  • One Last Job: The job at the start of the movie is supposed to be Gus' last big job to let him retire. So much for that...
  • Only Sane Man: Gus and the local police chief. One could also argue that Jesse, (Lloyd and Caroline's son) mostly falls under this category, although it's somewhat undermined by his need to act out via petty acts of delinquency and rebellion, regardless of how dumb and needless said acts of delinquency might be.
  • Pass the Popcorn: John and Mary are clearly anticipating their aunt and uncle fighting again during Christmas dinner, and they aren't disappointed.
  • Pity the Kidnapper: The entire plot of the movie. Gus ends up taking a couple hostage, only for said couple (and the rest of their family) to start wearing down on his sanity.
  • Precision F-Strike: Mostly carpet bombing, but there is one nicely-timed unison strike by the Chasseurs against their marriage counselor.
  • Pronouncing My Name for You: The Chasseur family's last name is often pronounced by others as "CHESS-er".
    "It's pronounced chas-OOHR! It's 18th century French Huguenot!"
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: When Gus forces Caroline and Lloyd to admit that they lie to each other.
    You saw the stop sign, didn't you Lloyd? You. Saw. The. Stop. Sign. Didn't you? Yes! So you too, are a liar. Capital L. Small i. Small a. Small r. Period.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Gus tosses these around like candy, although almost everyone gets in one the act at some point. Also, when Jesse asks to become Gus' apprentice, Gus not only tells Jesse why Jesse sucks, but also explains why Gus himself sucks.
    Let me explains something to you kid. What I do, running around stealing shit, that may sound great when you're 15 years old, but it sucks just a little bit when you're 35, you got no family, no house, I've got a partner who's a 56 year old alcoholic who can't figure out why they took Happy Days off the air, and then I got to turn on the TV everyday and see kids like you, one after another on these talk shows, you got everything, opportunities up the ass, you got a family to come home to, and what do you do? You sit around, and you bitch and you moan, because things don't go your way. Well, you know what kid, welcome to the real world where most times, things don't go your fucking way.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: In the scene where Gus holds a gun to Rose's head and threatens to fire ("Go ahead, shoot her." ). Due to their positioning, if Gus fired he would either end up shooting himself or giving his eyes and face a serious powder burn.
  • Rich Bitch: Lloyd's mother. And how.
  • Running Gag: Everyone comments about the cat urine smell stuck to Gus.
  • The Scrooge: Lloyd's mother. With all the money she has, the best things that she can buy her family for Christmas are slipper socks, a hideous sweatshirt, and husky-sized underwear.
    Connie: (whispering) What does she think, she's gonna take it all with her?
    Gary: (whispering back) I think that's the plan.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: " it possible for you to shut the fuck up for ten seconds?"
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: The parents. Although it's more like slap slap slap slap slap slap slap slap slap almost-kiss, with the slaps being verbal rather than physical...
  • Smug Snake: Lloyd's mother. And how.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: If the Chasseur family's bickering were any more caustic, it could dissolve silverware. This movie has some of the most magnificently vicious snarking ever committed to film.
  • Taped-Over Turmoil: Down at the police station, a bunch of officers are watching It's a Wonderful Life when police chief Lt. Huff comes in with a videotape containing footage of Gus. He puts it in the VCR and is about to play it for them when he gets a phone call. The cops put the movie back on and accidentally tape over the evidence.
  • Take That!: There's a character named Siskel, and he's played by J. K. Simmons. The resemblance to film critic Gene Siskel is not a coincidence. (Gene Siskel gave The Fisher King, another movie by the same screenwriter, a negative review.)
  • Took a Level in Kindness: The Chasseurs became less of a bickering Jerkass Dysfunctional Family and more of a Jerk with a Heart of Gold family once Gus enters their lives.
  • True Meaning of Christmas: Lampshaded and Defied in an exchange between Connie and her daughter, Mary, about the "criminal on the loose":
    Mary: Maybe they'll catch him and let him go in the spirit of Christmas.
    Connie: That is not the spirit of Christmas. The spirit of Christmas is either you're good or you're punished and you burn in hell.
  • Villain Protagonist: Gus is a cat burglar who is holding a family hostage to escape the police. And he's the most likable character in the entire movie.
  • Women Are Wiser: Generally subverted. Caroline tends to come off as more sympathetic, nurturing and understanding than Lloyd, but she's also caused just as many screw ups in the marriage as Lloyd has, complete with refusing to take any responsibility in major life decisions for the Chasseurs and later having a Self-Serving Memory about the past. And the other major female characters are an Evil Matriarch and Connie the shrew, so...
  • You Need to Get Laid:
    • At the very beginning of the movie Caroline voices this opinion of Lloyd's mother. In a therapy session of theirs when Lloyd mentions that their son Jesse started an escort service in 9th grade by passing around Lloyd's mother's phone number, Caroline snaps back "And I still say getting laid by an 18 year old linebacker is just what she needs!"
    • Also, Caroline and Lloyd apparently haven't had sex in years, at least according to Caroline.


Video Example(s):


Cat piss is only the beginning

Old Man Willard's booby trap is expertly designed, and overseen by his head of security, Cannibal.

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Main / BoobyTrap

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