With the arrival of the holiday season, it’s time for Hollywood’s obligatory Christmas themed comedy. There’ll be some hip songs mixed in with the traditional in an attempt to appeal to a broad musical base. You’ll have familiar faces; some who make you genuinely laugh while others bring out nothing more than a smirk. And there’s always that one annoying person who is the cinematic equivalent of Uncle Frank, the guy who thinks he’s funny and laughs at his own jokes. The real question is whether or not Office Christmas Party is the kind of event you want to go to or if you’ll claim you have to work late so your significant other has to go without you.
On the surface, you’ve got a recognizable cast that is appealing and funny. Office Christmas Party is a virtual who’s who in contemporary comedy. Jason Bateman is Josh Parker, a newly divorced man working at Zenotek, a tech firm on the verge of being shut down by Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston), the wannabe CEO who is really being vindictive in an act of jealousy towards her more popular brother Clay (C.J. Miller), who is the office manager. She gives them days to turn a profit or be forced to fire a significant percentage of employees. Tracey (Olivia Munn) is a genius and the beautiful technical whiz who is working on a new form of Wi-Fi called “Anywair” that could save the company but it’s not quite ready yet. However, if they can impress a client and acquire a big account, everybody gets to save their jobs. But, when the client is not impressed with their initial pitch, they invite him to the office Christmas party that was canceled by Carol. And this is where things go horribly wrong…or right depending on your party perspective.
Remember Bachelor Party (1983), that low-rent comedy from the early career of Tom Hanks? A simple night that blew up to an epic level and a great time was had by all…well most anyway. Essentially, that’s what happens here. From Jesus on a horse to a live baby for the nativity scene to Tarzan antics from the ceiling lights, what happens at the office party stays at the office party. It’s one of those parties that you’d love to go to but are afraid of what might happen. The kind where you wake up with a strange tattoo or need to call a friend for bail money. You’ll pray for recovery and that you’ll never do it again…at least until next year.
Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston are together again with about as much screen time as they had in Horrible Bosses. Bateman is really the star here and does very well with the limited material he’s given. Aniston phones in her performance but she does so with such style and sexiness that you forgive her anyway. T.J. Miller (Deadpool) turns in his usual performance of a zany sidekick with crazy one liners that make you laugh at first but get annoying by the second hour. Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live, Ghostbusters) has a supporting role as the HR exec that ends up being crazier than the rest of them. You either like her quirky style or you don’t. Personally, I love it and I was not disappointed. Olivia Munn (X-Men Apocalypse) is beautiful and that’s essentially her role here. She’s eye candy at best with little to do but ends up being the one who saves the day. And there are so many other familiar faces in smaller roles, there are too many to mention. Suffice to say they each provide a varying degree of laughter that collectively adds up over the nearly two hour running time.
While I generally feel most comedies should stop at the 90-minute mark, Office Christmas Party never seems to drag and kept me laughing all the way through. It’s not perfect but the six-person writing team collectively pieced enough together to make it entertaining. It’s a lot of random gags with the party as a loose connecting thread but it works. Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck haven’t done much since The Switch (2010) and likely won’t have Hollywood knocking down their doors, but they adequately offer us a Christmas present that most of us will keep and might even revisit again next year. Not a classic but well worth watching if for no other reason than to get those pesky relatives out of the house for a few hours on a cold winter day.