Director: Josh Gordon and Will Speck
Screenwriter: Justin Malen, Laura Solon, and Dan Mazer
Cast: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, and Courtney B. Vance
I’m a sucker for a good holiday movie; I even devised a gimmick to perpetuate my ability to release an annual top ten list of my favorite holiday films. That means Hollywood always has $10 up for grabs from me this time of year, if they want it. Last year, The Night Before got it, and if not for the church scene, I’d say I was ripped off. This year, Office Christmas Party got my $10. As I mentioned, I am a sucker for a good holiday movie, but it looks like I’ll have to settle for adequate.
Office Christmas Party is the clichéd story of a dull- named man, Josh (Jason Bateman) having a stereotypical divorce conveniently before entering the stereotypical flirtation zone with Tracey (Olivia Munn), who is stereotypically a tough gal who literally “locks people out” of her life. When dull-Josh and stereotypical Tracey can’t land a major client for their tech company, a formulaic conflict emerges about doing something crazy to keep the branch from being shut down.
Now I know what you’re saying, “Peoples Critic, didn’t you say this was an adequate holiday film? Where’s the adequacy?” Well thank your lucky stars that directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck prayed to the comedy gods and the gods delivered T.J. Miller, Kate McKinnon, and Jennifer Aniston. They make the movie. Miller and Aniston play sibling branch manager and CEO, respectively, of their father’s tech company, and their dynamic and conflicting nature of how to run a business is quite entertaining. These two have buckets more on-screen chemistry than Bateman and Munn have, and they’re playing siblings! Aniston is at her snarky best playing the tightly wound Carol, who is fed up with her brother Clay’s disregard for bottom lines and irresponsible management. After reviewing Clay’s branch, she delivers the ultimatum that there will be no extraneous spending, and jobs will be cut in the new year. So what does Clay do? He works with Josh to throw the most extravagant office Christmas party possible and use it to try to woo the client (played by Courtney B. Vance) Josh and Tracey couldn’t land. There you go, plot-premise delivered. So is it funny?
The short answer is, occasionally. Kate McKinnon’s stressed out, high-strung HR manager, Mary certainly helps. The biggest revelation I had during this movie is that McKinnon is ready to break out. She needs a vehicle (other than her Kia minivan in this film) to star in right now! Other than that, Office Christmas Party is a string of gags that have about a 50% success rate. Is that a good rate of return for a comedy? Not really, but these days (especially 2016), it’s par for the course, I’m afraid. The marketing obviously wanted you to be hearkened back to the outstandingly funny film Horrible Bosses from 2011. It’s about bosses, it’s got Bateman and Anniston, but what it doesn’t have is director Seth Gordon or writers Michael Markowitz, John Francis Daley, and Jonathan Goldstein. So let’s be clear, it’s not Horrible Bosses. But it’s also not horrible. Miller channels his character, Erlich Bachman from Silicon Valley in all the right ways, and his line at the end about describing his pain to the doctor is still making me chuckle when I think about it. The premise makes way for plenty of bit players to swing in for a gag and back out again, but I wish more of the gags landed. Also, I don’t’ understand why the final act of these types of movies has to go so far off the rails. There is always an attempt to crowbar in a sudden sense of danger, but this is Office Christmas Party; leave the danger to Die Hard! And while I’m on the subject, *spoiler alert – go to the next paragraph if you don’t want to know about a minor plot point* there is a rule in screenwriting that if you’re going to show a bomb, it needs to blow up. There is a scene early in the film where Clay talks to Josh about how much velocity you’d need to jump the Franklin Street Bridge in Chicago when it’s opened up. Then, surprise, there’s a car chase at the end of the film, and where are they headed? You guessed it, but they don’t jump the bridge! Why set this up? You are already inventing a false sense of ridiculous danger; why not go for it? Totally annoying.
Ok, spoiler free from here on out. Office Christmas Party does exactly what its title suggests. There is an office Christmas Party. It is also full of funny people being mostly funny, which makes it worth my stupid $10 holiday donation to Hollywood. But if movies like La La Land, Moonlight, and Manchester by the Sea would quit with their dumb limited-release BS and just open like you know they will in a month or so, then I’d be far happier to give my donation to something more worthwhile. B-
Office Christmas Party is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes.