Movie Review: Office Christmas Party

An attempt at holiday humor is as flat a day-old warm beer

Office Christmas Party
Directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon
With Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T. J. Miller, Jillian Bell, Courtney B. Vance, Kate McKinnon, Jennifer Aniston

Generic film titles, especially for comedies, are often a warning that the films will have a lot of insipid and generic attempts at humor. Office Christmas Party does little to break the trend. The party, one can guess, will be a series of escalating disasters that are supposed to be funny. Various office characters will have their clever quirks, and they will all collide in some frenzy once the booze starts flowing. There will also be some contrived crisis and deadline. In these areas, Office Christmas Party doesn't disappoint. It follows the generic comedy guidelines to the letter.

The company having the party alluded to in the title is Nanotek, which is some sort of IT / high-tech firm. What the compnay does remains a bit of a mystery. There is some mention of selling servers, and other talk about developing applications. The only person in the large cast who actually seems to do any IT work is Tracey (played by Olivia Munn). She is working on some program that if it works could save the company from the fake crisis deadline imposed in the script.

One other person also seems to always be working, human resources officer Mary Winetoss (Kate McKinnon). She goes around threatening everyone with violations for basically doing nothing. One woman is warned over having to many buttons undone on her blouse. Several men are warned as well over petty nonsense. She wears an ugly holiday sweater that has references to all major religions to show her inclusivity.

This is one of the main joke threads throughout the film. It falls flat the first time, and doesn't get better with age. Kate McKinnon, who hails from the TV series Saturday Night Live, was the one almost bright spot in the awful remake of Ghostbusters. Her luck did not follow her.

While the HR officer is overly concerned with sex, she is pretty OK with bullying. One thread of humor has two guys endlessly bullying their nerdy boss over his girlfriend. It turns into another major plotline.

The Zenotek office in Chicago is run by Clay Vanstone (T. J. Miller), but his sister, Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston) is CEO and usually stays in the New York office. Clay is happy-go-lucky space cadet; Carol is an uptight executive who sees only the bottom line. Of course, she shows up in Chicago unexpectedly to threaten massive layoffs and also to cancel the office party.

But will the party happen anyway? Most audience members can guess the answer. If not, the rest of the review may contain spoilers.

Clay is kept from being a complete disaster by his top assistant Josh Parker (Jason Bateman), who saves Clay from himself. Clay, for example, wants to buy inappropriate gifts for everyone. Josh explains why he can't. The two manage a few bits of humor, but most of it is too obvious.

The film telegraphs almost all of its jokes. Clay talks about what it would be like to do a dangerous stunt early on in the film. That of course comes back later. There is a machine that blows fake snow, which is kept in small plastic bags. Does anyone not know what plastic bag of white powder will get in the machine by mistake? There is an overenthusiastic security guard, just waiting to have a chance to go into action. She can't be let down by the predictable script either.

Olivia Munn probably scores the most points in the film, or perhaps is least embarrassed. She plays a fairly straight role and doesn't get caught up too many demeaning jokes. Justin Bateman also does an admirable job against the odds. Jennifer Aniston suffers from a poorly written role, and has only brief chances to be funny or even believable. Model and actress Abbey Lee Kershaw does a good job as a Russian call girl. The rest of the cast is so-so at best.

The worst offenders, though, are the screenwriters — credited as Justin Malen, Laura Solon and Dan Mazer — and the directors, Will Speck and Josh Gordon. The pedestrian script mixed with uninspired direction makes this a party invitation to turn down.

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