FILM REVIEW – OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY. With Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon. Written by Justin Malen & Laura Solon & Dan Mazer. Directed by Josh Gordon, Will Speck. Rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, drug use and graphic nudity. 105 minutes.
There are two kinds of “stupid comedies” which modern Hollywood turns out. The first are movies in which the star–think Adam Sandler, Melissa McCarthy, Zach Galifianakis–engages in aggressive stupidity and the “normal” protagonist is endlessly frustrated and humiliated. Some of these films make money, encouraging Hollywood to make more.
But then there’s the other type. Call it the “smart-stupid comedy.” There’s a lot of low humor, and material you wouldn’t want to be seen laughing at if your mother was in the room, but these are more akin to farces. Everyone acts foolish and yet even some of the most foolish characters turn out to be redeemable, and no one is treated as an expendable victim, as if this was the comic version of a “Saw” splatterfest.
OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY falls into the latter category. Much of it is inane, and yet there are also moments of wild zaniness and broad comedy that should make anyone smile if not outright laugh. In spite of the inevitable bodily function jokes, drug jokes, and gratuitous sex jokes, there’s also some cleverness, some winning performances, and some wonderfully anarchic humor.
Jason Bateman plays the newly-divorced Josh Parker, a top executive with Zenotek, a high-tech firm. The manager of the Chicago office, Clay Vanstone (T. J. Miller) is the son of the late company founder, but his uptight sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston), is the C.E.O. She arrives to complain about the office’s performance, cancels their Christmas party, and plans to fire nearly half the employees. However, if they can land a big account they’re pitching, they will get a reprieve. When Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) turns them down, tech whiz Tracey Hughes (Olivia Munn) has an idea. Throw the party and invite Davis, showing him they have the company culture he claims to want.
Everything after that set-up is the party, which spirals increasingly out of control as HR director Mary (Kate McKinnon) tries to enforce the rules, wild animals are let loose, cocaine is accidentally put in the snow machine, and–of course–Josh and Tracey finally connect. In the manner of farce, secrets are revealed, people work at cross purposes, characters show up at the most inopportune moments, and instead of being humiliated, the most uptight characters start to loosen up and join the fun.
The humor is hit-or-miss, and depending on your expectations you may find yourself laughing, groaning, or averting your eyes at any given moment. What keeps it going is a cast that knows how to play the material, from Miller’s ditzy-but-kindhearted boss to McKinnon’s office prig. Indeed, after last summer’s “Ghostbusters,” McKinnon once again shows herself capable of lifting up a comedy that might sink without her efforts. Someone get this woman a starring vehicle.
Bateman and Aniston, of course, are old hands at this sort of thing, and Munn manages to make Tracey more than just a token “love interest.” Supporting players like Vance and Rob Corddry head a long cast who manage to infuse their limited screen time with memorable moments. “Office Christmas Party” may be disposable and ultimately forgettable, but it is welcome seasonal silliness for those looking for something other than family films or Oscar bait.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released in early 2017. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.