A film review by Craig J. Koban December 17, 2016


2016, R, 105 mins.


Jennifer Aniston as Carol Vanstone  /  Jason Bateman as Josh Parker  /  Olivia Munn as Tracey Hughes  /  T.J. Miller as Clay Vanstone  /  Kate McKinnon as Mary  /  Jillian Bell as Trina  /  Vanessa Bayer as Allison  /  Courtney B. Vance as Walter Davis  /  Rob Corddry as Jeremy  /  Randall Park as Fred  /  Da'Vine Joy Randolph as Carla

Directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck  /  Written by Justin Malen, Laura Solon and Dan Mazer

This film arguably has the most specific title in history.  

After screening OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY I can categorically conform that (a) it takes place in an office, (b) it takes place during Christmas and (c) it most definitely involves a party. 

Oh man...does it ever. 

The hard R-rated party genre has been literally done to death, which leaves OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY in the unenviable position of trying to instill some freshness and novelty into the underlining material.  Having its story set during the most festive time of the year is a start, I guess, but considering that this film is the product of a multitude of screenwriters, it's somewhat disappointing to see no genre stone left unturned here.  OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY feels both achingly pedestrian and predictable, which hurts it from totally surrendering itself to all of its madcap comic possibilities and potential.  

However, the film more than makes up for its overtly familiar elements by having a totally game and talented cast that allows for the laughs to flow smoothly throughout.  OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY may be riddled with clichés and doesn't go for the satiric jugular as much as it should have, but it does chiefly demonstrate that just the right assembly of performers can help elevate prosaic material and make it somehow work. 



There's this struggling Chicago based tech firm called Zenotek that's been going through the financial ringer, so much so that it's aggressively hostile CEO, Carol (a scenery chewing Jennifer Aniston), shows up at the office to give some very bad pre-Christmas news to her brother Clay (T.J. Miller), whom oversees its day-to-day operations.  Firstly, she orders that no Christmas party of any kind be held to save money (even if it's a "non-denominational holiday mixer").  Secondly, and perhaps worst of all, she informs Clay that she's going to terminate 40 per cent of the branch due to poor fourth quarter sales.  Clay, rather predictably, reacts negatively to such news, but he and his good friend and fellow office supervisor Josh (Jason Bateman) decide to go on the offensive with Carol, after which time she gives them an ultimatum: If they can successfully woo and nab a highly lucrative big game client, Walter (Courtney B. Vance), and secure his business relationship with Zenotek...then everyone's jobs will be saved.  Here's the problem, though: she's only giving them until the following business day to close this multimillion dollar contract.   

Being a rather plucky and determined chap, Clay readily accepts the challenge, but deep down understands the severity and difficulty of landing his client.  He decides to team up with Josh and the firm's resident IT expert Tracy (Olivia Munn) to hold a top secret office Christmas party to show their client that their company is a big family atmosphere and knows how to show their business partners one hell of a good time.  Of course, what starts off as a relatively low key and quiet get-together unavoidably begins to careen completely out of control, which morphs into an all out orgy of booze, drugs, promiscuity, and everything else that would not be covered in the HR book for proper workplace code of conduct.  At first, Walter seems ill at ease at the gathering, which forces Clay to pull out all the stops to get his very introverted and socially shy client to loosen up a little bit.  Walter unintentionally finds himself on the receiving end of a huge whiff of cocaine (don't ask), which absolutely loosens him up...and then some.  Things begin to unravel and spiral out of control from there. 

In many ways, OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY delivers on its intended and advertised promises.  The movie - directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck, the tandem that previously made BLADES OF GLORY and the much better THE SWITCH, also with Aniston and Bateman - harnesses its overall archaic insanity rather well, even though the narrative trajectory of the story is fairly preordained.  Yes, the film unleashes enough dirty and naughty mischief to more than earn its R rating and it certainly displays some merriment in a few of the gags, like, for example, how one office worker decides to make impromptu usage of their 3D printer to replicate a vital part of his exposed anatomy.  The party also has a rented baby Jesus, an adult Jesus riding on horseback during the gathering itself, and an ice sculpture with a rather pornographic alcohol dispensing spout.  There's also a snow making machine that you just know will unavoidably be pumping out a white powdered substance that's most assuredly not snow. 

All of this is fun, but monotonously expected, which leaves the film's quartet of Aniston, Bateman, Miller and Munn to lead the charge.  Bateman, as he has demonstrated time and time again, is one of the most gifted deadpan comedic actors working today that's able to make the most stilted and awkwardly written moments in OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY shine with his acerbic delivery.  He's paired very well here with Miller, an actor that has perhaps played one too many man-child characters in past comedies, but he does it so resoundingly well here that he becomes awfully hard to hate.  If anything, Miller harnesses his character's good natured idiocy with a razor sharp precision.  Olivia Munn also has a good rapport with her castmates.  Her character has a rather ingenious - but laughably implausible - new tech idea that involves using common electrical devices as a source of transporting Internet signals.  Aniston - being a veteran of two HORRIBLE BOSSES films - is in her performance wheelhouse here playing her bitch in heels Zenotek higher up that can verbally - and physically - dish out soul crushing punishment to her debased prey.  One droll scene involving her in an airport with a child shows how willing Aniston is to make her character as shockingly - and hysterically - mean spirited as possible. 

Despite its rampant debauchery,  OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY is not a mean spirited comedy (as so many are these days).  There's an underlining sweetness that underscores many of the characters that's refreshing.  Beneath the film's scatological facade lurks a fairly good natured and feel good film with intelligent actors that know how to navigate around this kind of material.   Not all of this film works.  It sort of derails and loses comic momentum during its final stages that features a drunken and kidnapped Clay needing to be rescued from a ruthless female pimp (Jillian Bell) that distracts audiences away from the party itself.  That, and as mentioned, OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY could have benefited from more free wheeling unpredictability in the writing department (the ultimate fate of the office itself is never left in question, nor what ultimately saves it).  

Still, OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY does what good comedies should do: they're engines designed to make us laugh and laugh consistently, and this one made me laugh...frequently.  As a naughty yuletide comedy of ill manners, the film is a journeyman like work from Gordon and Speck, but it's reliably funny in the appropriate dosages, provided that you check your brain out at the door and simply surrender to its inappropriate and politically incorrect shenanigans.  



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