Once in a while, there’s a movie premise so lazy that it makes you wonder just how low the bar is for a green light these days. Office Christmas Party? How about Boomers Happy Hour or A Very Denny’s Christmas? At this point, if you told me that there was an A-list cast in either of those, I would believe you. Here’s a movie with a small army of mega-talented comedians; a cast that any director would kill for. One might think that the first order of business when assembling a cast like this would be to give them a really solid script to work off of. Ho-Ho-No. That’s not how we’re doing things this Christmas.
We find ourselves in a somewhat down in the dumps sect of Zenoteck, a computer server company. Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller) has certainly done his best to make his employees happy but is far from a good businessman. Furious with his lack of discipline, his icy CEO sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston) threatens to close his department at the end of the quarter, which is in two days. The only solution: get wealthy businessman Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) to invest in the branch. In order to seal the deal, Clay along with his buddies Josh (Jason Bateman) and Tracey (Olivia Munn) plan to throw an epic holiday rager to win Davis over. Naturally, all sorts of shenanigans ensue as the party goes from a casual bit of fun to an all out riot.
Much like the R-rated festivities that the film spends so much time trying to convince us are “wild” and “crazy” this is a film that completely lacks structure. There is no sense of direction, or pacing in this script. It’s all about throwing as many cheap visual, sexual gags on screen as possible, while the actors desperately improv entire sequences, practically gasping for air. All of the jokes were clearly written on the set, and it shows. It’s a bunch of friends throwing each other, but we’re not in on the gag. For a movie that’s all about people having fun, the audience is practically left in the car waiting to drive everybody home.
The story is utter nonsense, which is really a miracle considering that no less than three people wrote this screenplay. The plot mechanics here are some of the laziest put in a mainstream film in quite some time. At one point early on, Miller pulls a random side conversation completely out of nowhere, just so he can mention an important set piece in the third act. He might as well pull a copy of the script out to show to Bateman, look at the audience and go, “remember this, page 95, get ready!” All of the characters are clearly tailored to fit around the actors, and as such are as flat as humanly possible. None of these guys feel like real people. They’re cartoons at best, and lifeless quip dispensers at worst.
In fact, they’re such awful characters that even a cast as talented as this can hardly do anything for it. Bateman is in his standard straight-man mode here. Nothing we haven’t seen him do before. However, normally he’s given something truly spectacular to react to, whereas here he has virtually nothing other than the occasional grimace at a bare ass once and a while. Miller is playing the same care-free loon he always does, and while he’s likable enough, the character is only given completely superficial depth. The same goes for Aniston, but even more so. Carol is such a disgustingly exaggerated ball-busting, fun-hating, business woman that we never feel for the relationship between her and her brother. She’s just mean, so when the film tries to bring her arc back around at the end, it feels entirely unearned. Meanwhile, we have Rob Corddry, Jillian Bell, Randall Park, Vanessa Bayer, and a few other “I think I’ve seen that guy on TV” comedians wandering around looking for something to do. The only person who gets anything out of this is Kate McKinnon as an hyper-conservative human resources woman. I swear this gal is incapable of opening her mouth without being funny. She really builds a character here, and while she’s not given any depth, she’s a delight whenever she pops on screen.
What could have given this some life is some stylish direction. The same knack for insanity that Todd Phillips brought to The Hangover. Unfortunately, Josh Gordon and Will Speck seem lost in all of the chaos. They have virtually no idea where to put the camera, shooting the whole film more like a promotional video from a frat party. There’s a very TV sitcom feel to the whole thing, without a hint of self-awareness. It’s a shame too, as Gordon and Speck have not only delivered the delightfully absurd Blades of Glory but used Bateman and Aniston to great effect in The Switch. This project seems caught in the nasty tonal middle ground of those two films, which results in two lost directors desperately coasting on their performers.
Office Christmas Party is a one hundred minute cut of an SNL sketch that you’d fast forward through. It seems as though these actors gathered together for a party of their own, were having the minimal amount of fun, and then remembered that they invited a camera crew. Between this and Bad Santa 2, it’s looking like a worthy holiday raunch-fest is just not in our stocking this year. After all, this is the kind of party that leaves you rushing for an über after an hour, sober as you were on the day you were born.