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Directed by: Josh Gordon & Will Speck
Starring: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, TJ Miller, Jennifer Aniston and Kate McKinnon
Softhearted slacker Clay is the Chicago branch manager of this family business, Zenotech. His ruthless sister Carol is the CEO-in-waiting who arrives on the day before Christmas Eve. She tells him that his quarterly results are disastrous and 40% of the workforce will have to be fired if they can’t seal one last big multimillion-dollar deal before Christmas Day. Aware of what is at stake, Clay and his senior managers devise a cunning plan to throw the greatest office Christmas party ever in an effort to convince a prospective client that Zenotech is the company for him. What could possibly go wrong?
If you think of great Christmas comedies no doubt the likes of Scrooged, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, Elf, and Love Actually will pop to mind, to name a few. What do all those films have in common? They have heart – there’s a message balanced with a lot of humour too. Unfortunately, Office Christmas Party does not fall into the category of festive classic as it offers very little heart and the bare minimum amount of laughs required to call it a comedy. That said, it’s not a disaster but your enjoyment stems from the actors featured playing characters you’ve seen them play numerous times before. Jason Bateman could be any one of the characters he has portrayed in the last ten years. While I’m fond of Bateman, his straight-laced, tired nice guy routine is getting old now and nowhere else is this more painfully obvious than in Office Christmas Party. While he is not bad, he has undeniably phoned in this performance, going through the motions of his tried and tested comedy shtick.
Kate McKinnon, like her star turn in this year’s regrettable Ghostbusters remake, proves to be the most interesting element of the cast (again). While not going for out and out laughs, her stuffy and frustrated HR Manager adds something a little different and kooky – even looking at her is enough to make you raise a smile – yet it also seems that her interpretation of her character has been lifted directly from a SNL sketch. Olivia Munn, the brains and beauty behind Zenotech, plays it straight and works well against Bateman’s optimistic yet woebegone Chief Technical Officer. TJ Miller plays the lovable goofball boss very well but struggles to convey the heart of gold aspect of his character – he is geared far too much towards nonsensical actions and hair-brained schemes to make his concern for his employees real. This is the core problem with Office Christmas Party: you just don’t care for the characters. Jennifer Aniston is the only one who really steps up; she channels the meanness of her Horrible Bosses character and uses it wisely. Though she essentially plays the Grinch, it does seem that she’s having the most fun with her character. The supporting cast provide many of the real laughs, Jillian Bell as the pimp, Vanessa Bayer (another SNL alumni) as the divorcee secretary and Fortune Feimster as the gabby taxi driver are howls, they really are.
As for the party of the title itself, the zaniness does ratchet up as various things go invariably wrong to make the office party the biggest, messiest party ever, yet it isn’t the comedy of errors it really could and should have been. The filmmakers missed a trick by not going completely wacky with the physical comedy, or completely bawdy with the rude comedy and because of this Office Christmas Party doesn’t really know what it is or what it wants to be. Taken in the same vein as Superbad or Bad Neighbours then Office Christmas Party could have been a real knockout, but it wasn’t and it isn’t. Unfortunately this film is not as fun or as funny as the filmmakers think it is.
I can’t say I didn’t laugh during this film, I did, but it didn’t connect with me on any other level than embarrassment, feeling a twinge of awkwardness for the characters as they move from one set piece gag to the next. The comedy is forced, stemming from the fact that the filmmakers took as many comedic talents as they could and crammed them into a film without any thought to whether they would all gel. They don’t, and the improvisation clearly on show misses more times than it hits. While Office Christmas Party is not a new Christmas classic it does present a few enjoyable moments. It’s a fun way to spend the bones of 2 hours but you will be stumped to recall some of the funnier moments or lines almost as soon as you leave the cinema.
Office Christmas Party is in cinemas now. Watch the trailer below.