Some of America’s top comedy talent attempt to bring the festive cheer in this fleetingly funny but mostly banal yuletide yarn. It’s a suitably rude and raucous affair, with jokes and outrageous visual gags coming at a frenetic pace. The script is thin on ideas though and the underdeveloped characters lack much wit or charm. The resulting film is as flat and empty as Santa’s sack on Christmas morning.
Set in the Chicago office of IT company Zenotek, the threadbare plot sees hapless branch director Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller) go head to head with his battleaxe sister and company CEO Carol (Jennifer Aniston). They inherited the firm from their late father and a bitter sibling rivalry leaks into their business affairs. When Carol threatens to axe employees and ultimately close down the branch due to poor quarterly results, Clay promises to deliver a major client, Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) by the end of the day. Along with his senior staffers Josh (Jason Bateman) and Tracey (Olivia Munn), Clay attempts to impress Walter by throwing an expensive, elaborate Christmas bash. Needless to say, the party escalates into a night of abject mayhem and debauchery.
It’s a shame that the team of writers along with co-directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck (Blades of Glory, The Switch) fail to come up with much inspiration, particularly with such a talented cast at their disposal. There’s a lack of original comic invention and a lot of the dialogue appears to be improvised. Kate McKinnon’s free form approach to acting is again on display and her overt wackiness is starting to wear thin. Here she plays a bureaucratic HR Manager with an eccentric slant, but she ends up resorting to fart jokes to get laughs. This is the third film released this year (following Ghostbusters and Masterminds) where McKinnon’s brand of improv has been utilised with decidedly mediocre results. She is undoubtedly talented, but badly needs some good material if a big screen career is going to match her work on Saturday Night Live. She’s not the only one who stumbles. Jason Bateman is unusually glum and downbeat in a dull role, although his burgeoning romance with Munn does provide some decent moments. T.J. Miller and Jennifer Aniston are an appealing pair but their on-screen relationship errs more on the side of awkward than amusing. There’s an array of excellent supporting roles, with the likes of Jillian Bell, Rob Corddry and Vanessa Bayer all chipping in with entertaining turns. They just aren’t given much to work with. The supporting characters and various subplots are under written and ultimately spread too thin.
Despite a few laughs and a great cast, Office Christmas Party is a major let down. Everyone on board probably had a blast making the film. It just isn’t much fun to watch.