Hollywood really has given up on chipper, feel-good holiday movies and moved toward crude superstar comedies. “Bad Santa 2” is already serving as raunchy theater marquee clutter and “Why Him?” is surely on its way there. Directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon’s new film, “Office Christmas Party,” will do no different. It’s just another notch in the lousy holiday comedy bedpost.
“Office Christmas Party” follows Josh (Jason Bateman), CTO at the Chicago branch of a vague tech company called Zenotek. Josh’s friend and incompetent boss Clay (T.J. Miller) is running his branch into the ground, but hey, he’s got a heart of gold. On the day of a nondenominational holiday mixer, Carol (Jennifer Aniston) — Clay’s fun-sucking sister and Zenotek CEO — arrives in town with bad news: She’s shutting the branch down. To keep hundreds of office pals from losing their jobs, Josh and Clay must band together to throw the wildest office Christmas party ever to win over a potential client.
That sounds logical, right?
Clearly the brother-sister backstory was conceived long after someone pitched “let’s make a movie about a crazy office party.” A Bateman-Olivia Munn romance has the same afterthought effect, and any conflicts with potential emotional consequences are thwarted by bad jokes. Evidently, the writers couldn’t decide if they should to commit to the pathos of the film — that the people you work with become your annoying, loveable family, especially true during the holidays. (How precious.) The sentiments of the holiday season are merely used as an excuse to get “Saturday Night Live” cast members and “Horrible Bosses” alumni on a poster together.
Even then, it’s not like we’re seeing our favorite comedic actors doing anything out of their comfort zone. Role call: Jason Bateman as a sarcastic man forever amazed by people’s stupidity, Kate McKinnon as a cat-lover type who’s passionate about thrift store sweaters and Aniston as a hardass who Josh describes as “made of nothing but salad and smartwater.” Sure, they’re all good at their respective performance specialties, but there’s definitely nothing new here.
Actor pigeonholing aside, “Office Christmas Party” properly showcases what life is like when you work in an office full of weirdos. Office sweetheart Allison (Vanessa Bayer) and the painfully awkward Fred (Randall Park) have a day-to-day flirtation, but when they get in a room together at the alcohol-fuelled party, she discovers he has a freaky fetish for moms. Their makeout session goes really wrong.
That’s one thing the movie gets right: You don’t really know the people you work with until jugs of tequila and an inappropriately shaped eggnog luge are introduced. The generic office workers aren’t born party animals but gradually morph into them by the end of the night. Sadly, it’s all done with cheap office humor. We see naked partiers taking turns at the copy machine scanner, bathroom stalls becoming sites of coworker orgies and someone pushing a filing cabinet out of the window. Not only did the writers take no risks on the storyline, but the comedy isn’t up to par either. The great talents of the film are wasted on some twisted “The Office” gone wild.
As far as the comedy goes, we’ve seen it all before, but at least the film is visually attractive. A slow-motion montage of office destruction is a surprisingly, though perhaps mockingly, dazzling sequence. All backlit by twinkling lights, a security guard tazes unruly guests, wasted partygoers heave flaming Christmas trees across the room and a man dressed as Jesus takes a glory lap through the crowd atop a white horse. Again, there isn’t too much imagination used to actually develop the visual jokes, but you might as well enlist a quality cinematographer to make it all look good.
It’s so disappointing that filmmakers have mutually decided that raunchiness during the Christmas season is still edgy. Sure, the goal here isn’t to create some holiday classic such as “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” or “Elf,” but it would have been worth the effort to put some kind of love and affection into making a film during a season of giving.
“Office Christmas Party” sounds like fun, but attending one of those lame holiday mixers is probably more worth your time than heading to the theater for this one.