OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY

Reviewed by GREG KING

Directors: Josh Gordon and Will Speck

Stars: Jason Bateman, T J Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Courtney B Vance, Rob Corddry, Kate McKinnon, Abbey Lee, Olivia Munn, Karan Soni, Jillian Bell, Randall Park, Vanessa Bayer, Matt Walsh, Ben Falcone, Adrian Martinez, Sam Richardson, Fortune Feimster.
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It seems that writers of mainstream comedies these days have forgotten how to create genuinely funny and witty comedies, and they tend to equate adults misbehaving with comedy. This penchant for raunchy and largely unfunny comedy material seems to have even found its way into shaping R-rated Christmas films of late, with films like Bad Santa 2 and The Night Before coming across as the antithesis of more family friendly fare that embody the spirit of the season (films like Home Alone, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, the animated Polar Express, Love Actually, etc). Office Chistmas Party is the latest example of this subgenre that mistakenly equates crude and bad behaviour from party animals with humour. It’s a bit like The Office meets Animal House.
The Chicago branch of IT company Zenotek is about to have its Christmas party. Clay Vanstone (T J Miller, from tv series Silicon Valley, etc) is the hard partying but spoiled manchild in charge of the branch, which he inherited from his father. But before the celebrations can kick off his sister, the hardnosed CEO Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston), arrives and, like the grinch who ruined Christmas, announces that she intends to close down this underperforming branch that has been hemmoraghing money and fire the employees. The only hope of saving the branch lies with Clay and his Chief Technical Officer and best friend Josh Parker (Jason Bateman) in convincing potential client Walter Davis (Courtney B Vance, from Law & Order: Criminal Intent, etc), the head of a tech company, to sign a lucrative contract with Zenotek. Davis is in town for talks with a rival company, but Clay convinces him to check out their party before making any decision.
Before long though the party gets wildly out of hand, with lots of drunken debauchery, cocaine accidentally spilled into the snow making machine, bodies wasted and office furniture trashed. All of this mayhem ups the typical office party debauchery to eleven. The film serves up a richness of embarrassments, not the least of which is the sight of Bateman dancing in a fat suit and drinking egg nog from the nether regions of an ice sculpture (but even he seems uncomfortable with this scene); Aniston swearing like a trooper; Vance baring his backside; and other unnecessary crudities like a male member being replicated in a 3D printer. And an IT geek (Karan Soni) even hires a stripper to pretend to be his girlfriend to impress a couple of his cynical colleagues. Not much of this is particularly funny or witty, and the party seems to go on far too long until it wears out its welcome. And when the action leaves the confines of the office itself it falls back into cliches with Russian mobsters and a car chase through the snow covered streets of Chicago.
This crude and raucous and messy film has been written by a committee of six writers, which accounts for its uneven tone, lack of genuine humour, busy subplots, and its meandering nature. A lot of the attempts at humour fall flat and barely register a chuckle. Some of the dialogue, particularly that of Rob Corddry’s misanthropic customer service manager, smacks of having been improvised on the set. Co-writer Dan Mazer, better known for his collaborations with Sacha Baron Cohen on Ali G, Borat and Bruno, and who also recently wrote the rom com Bridget Jones’s Baby, is probably largely responsible for the finer details for these oddball but generic characters and the  rare genuine moments of humour in the patchy script.
This is the third film directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck, the team who gave us the ice skating comedy Blades Of Glory and the semen-swapping rom com The Switch, which also starred Bateman and Aniston. They collaborate well and maintain the energy for much of the film’s running time. But the ending itself seems a bit too pat and removed from the real world, where such an out of control party would have consequences.
In fact, Bateman and Aniston have appeared together several times (Horrible Bosses, etc) and they have a nice rapport in their shared scenes. But they are far too good for this material and coast through the film. Bateman has a reliable presence even in substandard material like this, and he delivers another variation on his familiar screen persona – the dry, uptight voice of reason who prefers to play it safe. Kate McKinnon, the breakout star from the recent remake of Ghostbusters, is also good as the office’s uptight, prudish, overly officious but flatulent HR manager. And Fortune Feimster also registers with her brief turn as a foul mouthed newby Uber driver.
But this is a bit of a mess and dull. If you want to see an enjoyable movie about a Christmas office party going sour then you would do well to check out the classic original Die Hard.

★★☆

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