Another lesser known Christmas comedy, The Ref (aka Hostile Hostages) was released in 1994 and it starred Judy Davis and Kevin Spacey as a bickering couple on the verge of a divorce who are taken hostage by a petty thief on Christmas Eve.
We first meet the couple as they attend a marriage counselling session which quickly goes off the rails. Meanwhile, criminal Gus (Denis Leary) is in the process of robbing jewelry from a nearby home but that also backfires and the thief is forced to get a ride from someone so he kidnaps Lloyd and Caroline (Spacey and Davis) and gets them to drive him back to their house where he ties them up. Gus' plan to wait for his bumbling partner to come up with an escape plan proves more difficult than anticipated when Lloyd and Caroline's incessant disputes prove to be more than distracting. Then there's the couple's rebellious son who comes home unexpectedly and the rest of the dysfunctional family, led by Lloyd's cold, possessive mother, who are on their way to celebrate Christmas Eve over dinner. To avoid suspicion and buy some time for his partner to set up the escape, Gus is forced to act like he's the couple's therapist but, again, this doesn't quite go according to plan.
Like Trapped In Paradise, The Ref isn't too obvious of a Christmas movie and it keeps all corniness mercifully far away. There are some genuine moments where the characters grow and a little Christmas spirit near the end but it's mostly all about the mean-spirited in-fighting at the heart of this family that's the focus. Even if there are a few reconciliations and compromises come the third act, this is a lot like National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation crossed with Husbands & Wives which means it's in equal parts funny and awkward. Denis Leary is at his... "Leariest" as Gus, the cranky burglar who teaches the passive aggressive family how to confront their problems through his own impatience. Spacey and Davis are both excellent individually and even if they're not completely convincing as a couple, their performances are so good it doesn't matter. The supporting cast is also good: Christine Baranski is as fun as ever and look out for J.K. Simmons and B.D. Wong in minor roles.
The Ref won't make everyone's Best Christmas Movies lists but it should make a few as this is an enjoyable comedy with some sharp writing and solid performances plus a dash of Christmas spirit thrown in near the end. One you'll want to check out for the holidays, if you haven't already.