Directors: Josh Gordon and Will Speck Starring: TJ Miller, Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, Jennifer Anniston Running Time: 105 minutes
It is hard to muster much enthusiasm for the latest festive themed comedy, Office Christmas Party. With the stench of Bad Santa 2 still lingering, another trip to the dark side of Christmas does not seem so appealing. There is of course hope, with the film’s cast stacked to the rafters with reliable faces (Jason Bateman, Jenifer Aniston) and padded out with a seemingly endless list of recognizable comedy actors, Office Christmas Party, from the creative team behind Blades of Glory and The Hangover could at the very least deliver on the raunchy, rambunctious and wild antics promised in the trailer. All the boxes are ticked in the 90 min run-time: drug use, profanity, alcohol, Christmas tree jousting…yet despite a game supporting cast and some enthusiastic direction, it all feels a bit aimless, safe and not particularly exceptional.
The setup is familiar. Zenotek, a Data Storage company (exciting I know) is on the decline. Facing the immediate closure of his branch by his wicked CEO sister, Jennifer Aniston, lovable goofball Clay (T.J Miller) along with his weary second in command (Jason Bateman) concoct a crazy plan; close a deal with a potential client by throwing a legendary Office Christmas Party. Together with a team of office weirdos they set about creating a night to remember. The group includes love interest Tracy (Oliva Munn), and demented and uptight HR head Mary (Kate McKinnon). As word of the epic party goes viral it is not long before the entire city of Chicago is at the door trying to get in on the fun. Will they be able to successfully party themselves into continued employment? Moreover, will there be an office still standing if they succeed?
There is a lot of potential in the premise. The epic party movie has been seen before with the likes of the awful Project X but the office setting is ripe with possibility. Some attempts are made to satire PC office culture but these boil down to cracks about non-denominational holiday celebrations and inappropriate office attire. A better comedy might have played up this angle further but here the film is all too quick to move from scene to scene of “crazy party” antics that are diverting but at best never raise more than a chuckle. There are jokes that do stick (a reoccurring winking gag). The arrival of Jillian Bell’s unnervingly polite pimp or Randal Parks as a shy accountant with a strange fetish offer glimmers of a stranger movie that is frustratingly unexplored.
The cast are game, Bateman plays the straight man well but it is not anything we have not seen before. When pushed beyond his Arrested Development schtick like in The Change Up or Bad Words he can be a very exciting presence but more often than not he is only asked to talk fast and act frustrated and here it is much of the same. Jennifer Aniston fairs a little better relishing the change to play a darker role while Munn is charming if a little bland.
When the focus is on these three characters then it feels a little dull. Enter T.J Miller and weirdo support cast to elevate the material. Miller really shines playing the party hardened Clay as the frat boy boss with the heart of gold. It would have been very easy to make this character idiotic but Miller plays the part with such wide-eyed earnest that you are always rooting for him to succeed. Coming close to stealing the entire movie is Kate McKinnon. Playing the company’s HR manager, she slowly revels her weirder side as the night unfolds. McKinnon is an electrifying performer on Saturday Night Live but has yet to be utilized successfully in film (the Ghostbusters reboot doesn’t count) but here she is so off the cuff and inspired that it is a shame nothing else in the movie can match her lunacy.
Fitfully entertaining, but never laugh out loud funny, Office Christmas Party at times pushes for darker humor but it always feels toothless. It is a shame that just as the party reaches Sodom and Gomorrah levels of madness in the third act the story moves the action away and out onto the snowy city streets. There are glimpses of the party but it feels like a missed opportunity to really push the boat out in terms of madness. What’s left is a tame and mildly diverting experience, at least keeping in line with the average office Christmas party.(2.5 / 5)