Office Christmas Party and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures
Directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon
Christmas themed comedies for the most part (at least the ones that aren’t made for TV) have a pretty solid track record with classics like Elf, Bad Santa, Home Alone, Christmas Vacation, and A Christmas movies among their prestigious ranks. I would also include How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the Ron Howard one) and even Jingle All the Way among those, but I tend to be in the minority with that particular opinion so we’ll save those arguments for another time. The point is that there’s a certain sense of… shall we say EFFORT that comes to be expected when trying to cash in on the holidays; even if the goal is to make it raunchy like they did with A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas (another classic) which seems to be the intent here as this movie seems to be a mix between Project X, The Hangover, and the first ten minutes of Die Hard before the terrorist took over the Nakatomi building. Does this wild party live up to the standards of excellence we expect from Christmas films, or is this just a lazy cash in that just so happened to wrangle in a whole bunch of popular comedians to do a whole bunch of lazy material before collecting their Christmas bonuses? Let’s find out!!
Our story begins at the Chicago branch of Zenotek which sells servers or something like that where we meet our key characters for the shenanigan fueled debauchery that will unfold in due time. We’ve got Josh (Jason Bateman) who’s basically if Jason Bateman worked at a branch of a tech company, Clay (TJ Miller) who’s basically if TJ Miller was in charge of said branch of a tech company, Mary (Kate McKinnon) who is what you’d imagine Kate McKinnon would do as a caricature of the head of human resources at said branch of a tech company, and a bunch of others played by Sam Richardson, Vanessa Bayer, Karan Soni, Randall Park, and Rob Corddry to fill out this scenario where a branch of a tech company as filled entirely by smart asses and awkward comedians. Oh, and Olivia Munn is in here too as the uber savvy hacker Tracey to be Josh’s love interest and to provide the very obvious Chekov’s Gun for the finale. Anyway, while we’re getting introduced to all these employees at Zenotech and setting up the boring typical Christmas Party, The CEO of the company Carol (Jennifer Aniston) who also happens to be Clay’s sister has informed them that the branch is about to get some HEAVY cuts and that the party is cancelled. Well that certainly sucks! If only there was a way to fix both problems at the same time… Oh wait! There’s a big contract up for grabs and the company’s representative is in town (Courtney B Vance) so maybe they can woo him into signing a contract with the BEST CHRISTMAS PARTY EVAR, giving their employees the great time they deserve and saving the branch in the process. It could work, right?
Despite this being in a genre that has plenty of notable classics, I wasn’t really expecting much going into it… yet it still turned out to be a huge disappointment. It starts off rather strong with solid jokes and some decent character building, but once the ball starts rolling and the party gets started, the movie just keeps fumbling with the material that should create knock out scenes until it gets to the absurd and completely unimaginative climax that puts the final nail in the coffin for what could have been a decent enough comedy. It’s a shame, considering how it managed to get me at least SOMEWHAT invested early on, that it failed to capitalize on that goodwill, and to me the movie relied too much on shock value and dark humor to the detriment of this being an enjoyable film. That kind of mentality can work in some movies if applied to the right material (*cough* The Purge: Election Year *cough*), but for something that’s as focused on character as this one is, as well as centering itself around a premise that invites jubilation and revelry, it just feels like a waste to couple this with a script that’s tonally at odds with it and while also barely having a third act.
As I said, the best part is the opening where the movie takes its time to not only set up the central conflict, but to properly introduce all the characters and give the dimension; including the secondary players who have their own little subplots that play out in the movie. Sure, it’s not laugh out loud funny and some of the exposition is delivered in a rather clunky way (particularly when it comes to TJ Miller and Jennifer Aniston’s setup), but it provides an excellent foundation for the rest of the movie to jump off from. You understand what TJ Miller is all about and why this party means the world to him. You get that Jason Bateman is playing the archetypal sourpuss, but it’s compensated by him being really engaged in his work and damn good at it too from what they present to us which is also true of Olivia Munn minus the sardonic attitude. Hell, even though the justification for having such a big blowout is patently ridiculous, you buy it because they even bothered to give the damn thing some stakes and provide a goal that our main players are working towards. Honestly, the only weak point is sadly Kate McKinnon’s character who’s such a cartoon of a human being that she doesn’t fit even in this exaggerated world. While pretty much everyone else is afforded at least a LITTLE bit of depth, she just doing the same shtick she did in Masterminds for the most part (cleaned up a bit with some Hillary Clinton thrown in) only it’s worse here because she has way more screen time to do all that awkward humor we apparently need from her instead of, you know… being awesome like she was in Ghostbusters.
Aside from the lackluster role for the breakout star of the year, there’s really nothing to complain about when it comes to the first act. Once we move into the second act though, that’s when things begin to fall apart. The party itself starts fairly early on in the movie, but it really takes until the halfway point for it to be the least bit fun, and while I fully understand that a party has to ramp up in these kind of movies to keep the momentum going, it would have been better if the starting point was just a bit higher as it should start out fun and then get better, rather than start out mediocre and then eventually become enjoyable. Not only that, but the movie systematically drops the ball on all of the subplots they bothered to set up in the first act as they have very unsatisfying and frankly unfunny endings. Compare this to something like Project X which is a much better party movie and similarly had high and low points in the festivities, but there was a constant sense of energy and it never lost sight of being fun or even being hopeful in the face of adversity and setbacks. Maybe other people are gonna love these scenes where people we’re theoretically supposed to like get their hopes dashed and nights ruined for the sake of some cheap dark jokes (or in one case to set up the overly convoluted third act), but I didn’t enjoy any of the payoffs that these characters got and it drags the whole movie down; especially when the party isn’t as great of a central conceit as the filmmakers thought it would be.
Still, I would take all of that over the third act where, once again, one of these comedies doesn’t know what the fuck to do to end the story, so it just throws in a bunch of pointless action. Without spoiling too much, TJ Miller gets into a situation that takes him and most of the main characters OUT of the party on some sort of rescue mission that doesn’t make any sense. Why would TJ Miller put himself in this situation, even if he was drunk? Why are the Bad Guys (yes, there are Bad Guys in here) taking the least efficient route possible to get what they want from TJ Miller? Why is Jason Bateman all of a sudden trying to conquer his fear of taking a risk in the most suicidally stupid way possible? None of this funny, none of it makes the least bit of sense, and it effectively writes out the party which is supposedly the whole reason were watching this damn movie. Hell, to bring this back to Project X again, that movie managed to find a way to bring tension and chaos to its third act without having to leave the party; saving them the trouble of coming up with a convoluted reason to LEAVE the party and still providing that constant uptick of energy which is what made that movie so memorable and is sorely lacking here. On top of that, but the wrap up at the end to resolve all the company’s problems is just as ludicrously contrived as the rest of the third act and leaves the movie on a sour note. The solution at the end does not rely on any of the prior events of the movie to have happened, so it simultaneously feels unearned in the story as well as completely making the entire movie pointless in the process. NOTHING that happened in this movie is of any significance after what happened at the end which is basically as dramatically satisfying as a character winning the lottery to solve all their problems. This is why you can’t just assume a third act is gonna write itself in these kind of comedies, because if you don’t then you run the risk of being so poorly put together that it ends up sinking the rest of the movie with it.
Oddly enough, we have two dirty as hell Christmas movies playing at the same time; one of them a years later sequel to a film that no one has really thought about in a decade. It’s too bad that the hip new movie with the all-star cast turned out to be less inspired than Bad Santa 2, but then again I seem to be the only one with anything positive to say about that one, so I guess take that particular comparison with a grain of salt. This movie simply does not live up to what it sells itself as and trying to sit through this in a theater is just heartbreaking as everything that seemed like it was going to be great just doesn’t follow through and by the end you question why you ever thought it would be good in the first place. Maybe for the right audience out there this would be worth seeing at some point AFTER it gets a home release, but there’s no reason to go to a theater for this. Hell, if you wait until next Christmas, I’m sure you’ll find this in the Bargain Bin come next November which is about as good an endorsement as this movie can get from me.
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