Office Christmas Party only offers a celebration in debauchery with minimal character development and an even weaker situation-based story line. Characters come out of their comfort zones and lose their inhibitions at an extreme party without much authority, accountability, and/or self-control.
This raunchy comedy feels like being dragged across a barren desert with no hope of a satisfying oasis. A fairly generic experience with no real roots that depends on the cast’s appeal and “wild” scenarios to provide audience appeal.
Collaborating director duo Josh Gordon and Will Speck (Blades of Glory, The Switch, and 1997 Oscar® nominated short Culture) helm this ship. The six member screenwriter/story writer team only introduces elements to possibly appear later or set up a joke.
“I don’t need your origin story.” That dialogue bit mirrors this movie’s approach to character development that’s void of visual clips or flashbacks. Audiences are expected understand/accept the references and other superfluous elements like character introductions (e.g. “party hire” Rodney) that do not lead to any payoff or substantial closure.
Audiences get repeated jokes and character combinations that would not happen under normal circumstances. The payoff? Audiences get to hear characters talk about things they all share in common…kind of like continuous random counseling sessions where each character can vent the negatives in their lives. It would mean more if audiences knew the characters better. One key combination involves some ulterior motives where if characters “make nice” they can get what they really want.
The main story centers on a Chicago company named Zenotech. There are multiple points in story where the story could stop (misunderstandings, coincidences, bad timing, etc.). Creators touch on deep topics, but keep the story moving pretty quickly…like a party that feeds audiences with constant music beats, stylish visuals (even some apocalyptic-type color schemes) and popular modern songs by artists like Panic! At the Disco, Redfoo, Pitbull, Sean Kingston, and the Ying Yang Twins.
For the characters, it would be better to let audiences discover each one for themselves and/or creators could use fake or misleading (based on first impressions) backgrounds. It would have been more interesting and possibly an exercise in analyzing predispositions and cultural stereotypes.
Jason Bateman plays recently divorced manager Josh Parker who struggling between his basic approach (bunt or swing for the fences). Olivia Munn (X-Men Apocalypse) plays computer expert extraordinaire Tracy and Josh’s long standing love interest. The creators don’t even bother showing the computer screen while she’s making all her “genius” moves.
T.J. Miller (Big Hero 6, Deadpool) plays Clay who runs the Zenotech company, a family business. The creators utilize his memorable voice well as an obvious MC. His struggles with political correctness (“Everything is considered sexual these days”) mask the more important issues occurring behind-the-scenes. Clay wants his eventual company success to earn respect and fairness from his tough sister Carol, played by Jennifer Aniston who is definitely the “Scrooge” in this snapshot scenario. The no-nonsense Carol “adjusts numbers to real world conditions” and demonstrates the best decision-making skills while exercising her insensitive authority at every turn…to everyone from a little girl in first class airport lounge to a new Uber driver.
The story center on these characters’ lives conveniently coming to an important crossroads by moving out of their comfort zones with a few supporting characters joining them along the way. Not much discovery or desire to know the supporting characters much more. Characters say too much in the dialogue instead of just showing in visuals or even a revealing montage. Most of the emotional connections relate to financial stresses and family/loved ones.
It’s great to see Courtney B. Vance in a prominent role again as executive Walter Davis. Josh and Clay seek his business partnership and Rob Corddry (TV’s Daily Show) plays customer service manager Jeremy. Vanessa Bayer (TV’s Saturday Night Live) plays Clay’s executive assistant Allison, who oddly transitions from a first impression as a hot head, single mom to “glue” of the company without showing any extraordinary talents. Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters) plays the human resources manager Mary who is a timid yet totalitarian in the office.
Bayer and McKinnon had an unofficial warm up to this movie in the Saturday Night Live skit of the same name, which was the reported inspiration for this movie.
Randall Park (TV’s Fresh Off the Boat) plays Fred while Jamie Chung plays Meghan who has a memorable beginning then quickly unfortunately fades into the background. Jillian Bell (Trina) and Abbey Lee (Becca/Savannah) also factor into the story along with a doctor, played by Ben Falcone.
Da’Vine Joy Randolph plays the building security guard Carla who has the biggest challenge of safeguarding the company’s assets amid the crazy party. Regular scene stealer Karan Soni (Deadpool, the upcoming Office Uprising) plays Nate. He holds the audience with his screen presence, dialogue delivery and unassuming charisma.
Admirable character actions occur, but only after they’ve gone to extremes. The story jettisons some familiar stereotypes, but copes with tension – audiences have to hear it from her not the sound of the actual action.
The editing has good transitions except for the confusing beginning of an interior sequence where Clay finishes a joke the audience never heard. Other miscues include not letting the audience hear the funny way a character deals with the stress and tension though this comical relief has been heard by most audiences…a lot. Christ may be in the title, but, not surprisingly, God’s disrespectfully treated like Santa Claus and a constant visual gag.
The gag reel/various snippets during the first half of the ending credits are also not that funny, but maybe they’re saving more for the home video version. Not recommended (*1/2 out of four stars) and rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, drug use, and graphic nudity.