Office Christmas Party Directed by: Will Speck, Josh Gordon
Written by: Justin Malen, Laura Solon, Dan Mazer
Cast: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Courtney B. Vance, Kate McKinnon, Jennifer Aniston, Vanessa Bayer, Rob Corddry, Jamie Chung, Jillian Bell
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Rated R | 105 Minutes
Release Date: December 9, 2016
“Party like your job depends on it.”
Directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon (Blades of Glory, The Switch), Office Christmas Party is like its star, T.J. Miller: loud, obnoxious, occasionally funny, and best when loaded on drugs and alcohol.
When Zenotek CEO Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston) tries to close her hard-partying brother’s branch in Chicago, he (Clay Vanstone, played by Miller) and Chief Technical Officer Josh Parker (Jason Bateman) must rally their co-workers and host an epic non-denominational holiday mixer Christmas party to woo potential client Walter Davis (The People v. O.J. Simpson‘s Courtney B. Vance) and close a sale that will save their jobs.
Zenotek’s Chicago office is filled with some dysfunctional characters, including Clay’s sweet but foul-mouthed assistant, Allison (SNL‘s Vanessa Bayer), Mary (SNL‘s Kate McKinnon, Ghostbusters), the rules-obsessed Head of Human Resources, and everyone’s favorite asshole, Rob Corddry, a broken shell of a man with anger management issues who works as Head of Customer Service. Rounding out the cast are Jamie Chung, who plays an underworked Social Media Coordinator, and Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse) as Tracey Hughes, Lead Systems Engineer.
As you might imagine, the party devolves into a business casual powder keg of liquor, cocaine, prostitutes, and property damage. HR violations are racked up as drunken employees swing from the ceiling on Christmas lights and Xerox their junk in the mail room. It’s sort of like the bar scene in Gremlins, but without Phoebe Cates, sadly. Even Courtney B. Vance’s strait-laced character cuts loose! After accidentally ingesting some festive white powder, Davis rips his shirt off and gets on stage with Clay (dressed as Santa Claus) for a rousing rendition of DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat.”
Office Christmas Party has its moments, and most of them involve Kate McKinnon, but they’re few and far between. For a movie with this many funny people involved, it just isn’t that funny. The script, written by Justin Malen, Laura Solon, and Dan Mazer, is a hodgepodge of office hijinks with a thin layer of faux sentimentality on top. It wants to have a heartwarming center, like The 40-Year-Old Virgin or Superbad, but thin characters caught up in clichés preclude an emotionally engaging story.
Aniston plays the stereotypical bitch in charge, but she also knows Krav Maga (a self-defense system developed for the Israel Defense Forces) which allows her to go all Rhonda Rousey on some Russian thugs at one point. Karan Soni, Deadpool’s scene-stealing cabbie, plays the clichéd Indian IT guy, who hires an escort (Abbey Lee of Mad Max: Fury Road) to pose as his girlfriend because he’s such a hopeless nerd.
T.J. Miller (HBO’s Silicon Valley, Deadpool) plays the buffoonish man-child with a heart of gold, something that Miller does quite convincingly. And then there’s Bateman’s Parker, the film’s stuffy straight man, who is involved in an implausible workplace romance with Olivia Munn‘s “cool hacker chick” character. You know she’s cool because she says “Suck my dick!” to her boss. See, she’s one of the guys! I bet she watches sports and drinks craft beer, too!
Munn’s Tracey is also integral to the film’s finale, in which she engineers a game-changing form of Wi-Fi that could save the company. This plot is so unbelievable that it is easily the most ludicrous thing in the movie, which is saying something considering this is a film in which Kate McKinnon plays a gassy woman who sings German folk songs and drives a Kia minivan with upholstery stained by the genital secretions of exotic birds.
The biggest problem with Office Christmas Party is that it squanders a fun ensemble on a shiftless, empty script by three writers, from a story by three other writers. Throw in two directors, and it took eight people to come up with a movie this mediocre. The characters are cardboard cutouts, crudely maneuvered through festive, holiday scenes – like Kevin McCallister in Home Alone, manipulating mannequins while a standee of Michael Jordan rides around on a model train, giving the impression that a Christmas party with actual flesh-and-blood people is happening in Chicago.