With every Holiday season comes the arrival of a new batch of Holiday movies. Some are geared towards the whole family, others exclusively for adults (read: stoned teenagers) but most are disposable garbage. Increasingly, we’ve seen an uptick in adult-oriented, hard-R holiday season comedies and with Office Christmas Party, Why Him? and Bad Santa 2 all in theaters this holiday season, there is no shortage for those looking to mix some raunch in with their ugly sweaters and eggnog. But at least with the former, you’ll find a few chuckles buried in among the coal.
Jason Bateman, Hollywood’s list-topper for cheeky studio-friendly straight man, is Josh Parker. A supervisor for a weening tech corp, Josh is as much an employee to Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller) as he is a close friend. For his part, Clay is part Michael Scott, part Van Wilder; a trustafarian with a heart of gold but limited managerial skills. Together they watch over Chicago’s Zenotek branch, boring and dumb, respectively, incarnate.
With the recent passing of his father, Clay’s branch has struggled to adapt and his Scrooge-like older sister slash interim CEO Carol (Jennifer Aniston) has threatened the livelihood of the entire office with across-the-board job cuts with the tune of 40% of Clay’s employees facing imminent unemployment. With a bahumbum, she’s also cancelled their bonuses. And the annual holiday party.
Josh, Clay and coding extraordinaire slash Josh’s love interest Tracey (Olivia Munn) march to their last stand – a massive contract pitch with $14M investment potential – only to discover that their would-be client Walter Davis (Courtney Vance) is less than impressed with their office culture. Specifically, he rails against pretty much everything the misery Carol stands for. In order to prove that they are not the company that they very much are, the trio are tasked with throwing a proper Christmas – er non-denominational – rager to impress Mr. Davis before Carol up and shuts down the fun and the branch.
Like a real Christmas office party, the film of the same name takes a while to warm up and regale itself to the audience. Like a gaggle of office inmates trying their best to play nice and not look too overzealous (read: drunk) in front of the bossman, Office Christmas Party rarely has the gall to go for gold. Expect familiar gags throughout as the film from Josh Gordon and Will Speck (the team behind other Anniston-Bateman comedy The Switch, and Will Ferrell ice skating farce Blades of Glory) earns little credit innovating and mostly plays up the adults acting like teenagers shenanigans comedies of this nature fall back on when they have nothing better to do.
The party-movie-cum-holiday-feature follows formula like a solider falling in rank, a mix of last year’s hard-partying Sisters and any number of sub-par Bateman comedies. Studio movie through and through, Office Christmas Party tries to have it all: the broad comedy (face plants, weiner jokes, party montages), the wildfire of a rising star (Kate McKinnon stealing the show again by basically doing whatever she wants), the heart-string plucking (a twee romance, feckless familial bonding.) Its razor-thin premise squeaks in Heart with a capital H and Humor with a capital H because it’s the holidays and that’s what studio comedies do for the holidays. Office Christmas Party coalesces only because we’ve seen it do so a million times before in other studio comedies.
Some of the bits are rather funny – a bag of coke to the face, anything involving Jillian Bell’s mentally unstable pimpstress, Fortune Feimster as a lippy Uber driver riffing recklessly on Carol’s name – even if the central trio are rather flat – Bateman has rarely been more lifeless, Munn offers little, Miller is just doing his same shtick. Others, like an out-of-place Abbey Lee giving $40 hand jobs or Clay knocking over a Christmas tree in a department store go over like a palm (tree) to the face. It’s redundant. It’s bombastic. It’s cliche.
All in all, the takeaway is lightweight, if inoffensive, because the actual jokes are slim to none. Most audience members will be hard-pressed recounting a written joke – not a physical gag – from the film because there simply aren’t many there. This is not your Superbad, Anchorman or even Wedding Crashers. Frat bros won’t be quoting it for years to come because there isn’t anything particularly notable much less worth quoting.
There’s not a lot memorable about Office Christmas Party almost by design. As if it actively tries to not make a mark. Like the guy trying to leave the party early, it tries to slink in and out unnoticed. Initially poised to take on the timely issue of PC-corporate culture in the context of a “holiday” – not Christmas – party, the script (written by no less than six) balks on its promises to actually try and say anything. That conflict – put to physical form in Kate McKinnon’s diligent and suspect HR rep – falls to pieces because no one on the writing staff has anything of note to say. From a script standpoint, it just kind of lies there, roadkill reindeer, praying for the cast to improvise as best they can (which a series of post-credit scenes prove they indeed did.)
That’s not to say that Office Christmas Party is a bad time. In fact, it’s not unlike the slew of holiday parties you’ll likely attend this year. You’ll smile at times, chuckle here and there but will you look back on it with nothing but a faint recollection of blasé check-ins and forgettable convos. You’ll politely smile and say you had a good time but won’t likely ever think back on it again, particularly with strong affection. And though it may be the lesser of the three comedy evils facing the holiday season movie-goers, that doesn’t necessarily make it worthy of your wish list. Now if only they’d instead made a Christmas Party spin-off of The Office…
CONCLUSION: Forgettable ‘Office Christmas Party’ is much funnier when its flat set of leads allow the secondary characters (i.e. Kate McKinnon) to take the spotlight, and though there’s a shortage of well-written jokes to this holiday-ready comedy, it eeks by on being just amusing enough to entertain those desperate for a Christmas-themed new release.