The advertising for Office Christmas Party suggests that this R-rated holiday is outrageous. It isn’t. In fact, it’s remarkably tame compared to what the commercials promise. Yes, there’s boozing, some drug use, brief glimpses of nudity, and uninhibited dancing, but nothing you haven’t seen before. Except for when an intern uses a 3D printer to make a replica of his… well, you can probably guess. You’ve seen better party scenes in movies like Old School and Hot Tub Time Machine, two far better movies.
Clay (T.J. Miller) runs the Chicago office of a tech company that was previously run by his recently-deceased father. Clay has a “cool boss” streak, leaving the heavylifting to his right-hand people Josh (Jason Bateman) and Tracey (Olivia Munn). However, Clay’s pushy sister, Carol (Jennifer Aniston), who is trying to be named CEO of the company, arrives days before the holidays and informs Clay that she is shutting down the Chicago office. Clay, Josh, and Tracey try to save the Chicago office by pitching one of Tracey’s ideas to an executive and a major firm, Walter (Courtney B. Vance). When Walter turns them down, the trio hopes to change his mind by throwing the most over-the-top Christmas party in company history and inviting him to party down. How do they come up with this plan? Their assumption is “He’s drinking Scotch in the afternoon — he must like to party.” Apparently anybody who sips a drink in an afternoon is down for a rager.
This premise — that if the branch throws a Christmas party “epic” enough that it might sway an executive to make a multi-million dollar deal and save the office — is ludicrous. It also takes a truly outlandish plot device to make it feasible that this buttoned-up executive would go wild at the party.
Every actor is playing so to type here that it’s like they were cut-and-pasted from their other movies. Bateman’s character is the straight man, and he’s straight out of Horrible Bosses. Munn is brainy and sexy (in that order, naturally), and Miller delivers his dialogue like he’s running through one of his standup routines. The only actors here who are doing anything slightly different are Aniston (because her character is meaner than her usual characters) and Vance (who gets to chew the scenery when he’s raging).
My suspicion is that no one involved with this movie has ever worked in an office before because all the characters are simply “office humor” stereotypes. Perhaps the filmmakers binged-watched The Office and then speculated how they would make an R-rated spinoff. Take Kate McKinnon‘s character, for instance. She’s the head of Human Resources, which means — as per HR people stereotypes in movies and TV — that she’s on everyone’s backs about following office policies and is as straight-laced as pair of dress shoes. Of course, once she has a few drinks in her she unleashes a wild side, because that’s what always happens in movies with a stuffy stickler starts drinking. The only thing that adds a dimension to her character is her flatulence problem, a gag that’s played exactly twice in the movie and is probably meant to be a lot funnier than it actually is.
Despite being titled Office Christmas Party, at least a third of it doesn’t actually take place in an office. Which is odd — the advertising pushes the movie as a party comedy, and I don’t think moviegoers want to see this for the extended car chase scene in the climax, which takes up way more time than it should.
The primary issue with Office Christmas Party is that most of the talent involved is capable of creating a better movie. In addition to the actors, this includes most of the six (!) credited writers — Scott Moore and Josh Lucas wrote The Hangover and Bad Moms, while Dan Mazer was even nominated for an Oscar for co-writing Borat. Josh Gordon and Will Speck directed 2007’s Blades of Glory and 2010’s The Switch (also featuring Aniston and Bateman), which weren’t masterpieces by any means, but funnier than anything in Office Christmas Party.
If you want to see a raunchy holiday comedy this year, go see Bad Santa 2. Or, better yet, rewatch Bad Santa, Scoorged, or your favorite party comedy with Christmas music on in the background. Office Christmas Party will be one of the many movies in holiday rotation on cable two Christmases from now, and the jokes won’t be any better then as they are now.