The merriment seems forced at juvenile ‘Office Christmas Party’
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Have you ever worked for a company that failed miserably, despite all the wonderful and talented people working there?
“Office Christmas Party” is the holiday comedy movie version of such a business.
Despite the eminently likable ensemble cast, featuring such reliable talents as Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon and T.J. Miller, Courtney B. Vance and Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer and Randall Park — and no, the aforementioned are not playing couples but that might have been interesting — the individual parts never come close to fully meshing into a quality team effort.
This is one of those loud, forced, party-hard movies where everyone onscreen is trying their best to convince us we’re watching a zany, edgy romp — but the cartoonish slapstick antics, the lazy and warmed-over plot and the consistent reliance on genital- and flatulence-based humor comes across as juvenile and tired.
Also, if you’re going to set your story in something resembling a real-world Chicago scenario, an office Christmas party in which fires are set and heavy objects are pushed through the windows of a Loop skyscraper and come crashing down on the plaza below, and the lobby of that building is jam-packed with dozens of partygoers — that sort of activity is going to attract some law enforcement attention.
Comedy in a vacuum is comedy that often makes a sucking sound.
Bateman, playing the kind of likable everyman he can do in his sleep, is Josh, a good-hearted, play-it-safe, semi-mopey guy who’s still reeling from his wife leaving him a year ago. Josh is an exec with the struggling Chicago branch of Zenotek, an IT company that does … IT things.
T.J. Miller’s Clay heads up the Chicago office. I like T.J. Miller. He fills up the screen with his big frame and his wild hair and his infectious smile, and he’s in his comfort zone here playing a trust fund kid who genuinely cares about his employees but is still a child at heart and is really, really bad at motivating the staff.
Jennifer Aniston is Clay’s sister, no-nonsense, budget-obsessed sister Carol, who was named interim CEO of the family-run company following the death of their beloved father. Carol blows into town and tells Josh and Clay they have exactly two days to essentially double the profit margin for the quarter, or she’ll be forced to lay off 40 percent of the workforce.
For Josh, Clay and their programming genius Tracey (Olivia Munn), there’s only one chance to save the day: Throw a Hail Mary and close $14 million worth of business from Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance), who is about to sign with Dell but has agreed to take a meeting with Zenotek.
How will they win over Walter? By throwing THE MOST AWESOME OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY EVER, THAT’S HOW!
And off we go.
“Office Christmas Party” directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck haven’t co-helmed a feature since the very funny “Blades of Glory” nearly a decade ago. They find nuggets of humor here and there, mostly in the relatively quiet, dialogue-driven moments — but the actual party goes on and on and ON, rarely yielding genuine laughs.
“Saturday Night Live” treasure Kate McKinnon plays the uptight head of Human Resources. (Think she’ll loosen up as the night goes on?) Randall Park from “Fresh Off the Boat” unfortunately gets stuck playing a perv in a nothing role.
Olivia Munn and Bateman don’t quite click as a potential romance. Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls has a cameo as Jimmy Butler of the Chicago Bulls, and as an actor, he’s pretty much Jimmy Wooden Buckets.
My favorite performance was by Fortune Feimster as a first-time Uber driver. In just a few minutes on screen, Feimster creates a character that is brassy, sassy and flat-out hilarious. I wanted to stay in the car with that wisecracking Uber driver and leave the office party behind.
Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon and written by Justin Malen, Laura Soron and Dan Mazer. Rated R (for crude sexual content and language throughout, drug use and graphic nudity). Running time: 105 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.