The trailers were certainly funny. The cast looks like they could deliver. The story looks coherent enough to make for an enjoyable ride. And the title, OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY, is bland enough to almost be a parody of itself. You say to yourself, “you know what? This could be pretty great. I’ll give it a shot.” Unfortunately, OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY commits the worst sin a comedy could ever make: it’s just not funny.
When Carol Vanstone (played by Jennifer Aniston), the CEO of tech company Zenotek, decrees that the Chicago branch – run by her brother, Clay (played by TJ Miller) – will not only have to downsize their staff but also cancel their Christmas bonuses. The only way to prevent the downsizing is to impress a potential client (played by Courtney B. Vance) and close a deal with his company. But the cherry on top on this bad-news sundae, and the aspect that breaks Clay’s heart the most? The Christmas party – or as the HR rep Mary Winetoss (played by Kate McKinnon) wants it to be known as, “the Holiday Non-Denominational Party” – is officially cancelled. Clay, the mostly lazy but fun-loving and good-intentioned boss, will not take this lying down. He recruits his Chief Technical Officer, Josh Parker (played by Jason Bateman) and Josh’s main programmer Tracy Hughes (played by Olivia Munn), and they set out to invite the client to their party – which is still happening without Carol’s knowledge – in the hopes of being able to strike a deal. As you would expect, shenanigans hastily ensue.
OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY, directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon (the duo that previously made BLADES OF GLORY, a film that I have a tremendous soft spot for), suffers from a now-too-common mistake in films where the best jokes and gags are given away in the trailers. What you have left with in the finished product is a film devoid of any real surprise “laugh out loud” gags; and when you have comedy with this many talented actors – including Rob Corddry, Randall Park, and Vanessa Bayer, along with the main cast – that’s just unacceptable. It was disappointing that the most this film got out of me was an extended chuckle. In contrast, when the trailers first dropped, I laughed hysterically. But not offering any funnier gags in the actual film really hurt its potential. It also took its seemingly normal premise and turned the ridiculousness dial up to 11, while at the same time playing it completely straight. This is a film that, while it’s about a party, didn’t really know how to have fun with itself. While some aspects still came off as entertaining, at different points it comes off as rather soulless. The next Christmas comedy classic, this is not.
Having said all that, I still feel that, in the end, this film is harmless. The cast does the bare minimum to keep the (few) laughs coming. In that regard, I have to give special recognition to both Kate McKinnon and Rob Corddry, who were by far the runaway stars of this film. McKinnon is certainly making a name for herself, taking on the Kristin Wiig mantle of being the most beloved current SNL cast member in a relatively short period of time, and will unquestionably be the show’s next breakout star. Rob Corddry, I feel, is a very underrated comedic talent who always makes the role he’s playing ten times better than it probably should be. In contrast, the main cast seemed to just be going through the motions. TJ Miller was being TJ Miller and Jason Bateman was being Jason Bateman; even Olivia Munn (whose work I thoroughly enjoyed in the HBO series THE NEWSROOM) came off rather bland and unspectacular. This is coming off a rather unspectacular year for her, having played the equally-bland, blatant eye candy Psylocke in X-MEN: APOCALYPSE. Also – Jillian Bell as Trina, head of an escort agency, was rather annoying for the short screen time that she had. Every time she showed up, I wished she’d go away. Whether she meant to play the character that way I can’t really tell, but either way, it worked.
To elaborate on my point above, I feel that in the end, there’s much worse comedy fare than OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY in existence so as to render the film, in my opinion, harmless. There are a couple of decent laughs, the story is ridiculous enough to keep you entertained, and there are a couple of great comedic performances. But other than that, there’s really nothing in this that makes it “must see.” It’s definitely not a good film, but it’s also not a bad film. It just kind of exists; a film that becomes instantly forgettable upon leaving the theater, sort of like a real office Christmas party. If you insist on indulging yourself in it, I would wait until it hits home media, because this is a film that doesn’t require a movie theater to be able to bask in its blandness.