Glenn Kenny
August 05, 1994 AT 04:00 AM EDT

The critics who moan about slackly written Tinseltown trash didn’t seem to notice that the black comedy The Ref featured some of the sharpest dialogue heard in a Hollywood flick since the heyday of Hecht and MacArthur. Maybe they didn’t listen past the abundant profanity, or maybe their hype meters set them against this star vehicle for abrasive comic Denis Leary. But never mind. The Ref, wherein a cat burglar inadvertently takes the World’s Most Dysfunctional Family hostage, has more than language going for it. The performances are uniformly excellent — even Leary knows when to shut up and just listen — and this nasty romp delivers so many honest laughs, you may end up watching it twice in the same night to make sure you weren’t hallucinating. A-

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