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Office Christmas Party

Despite an excellent cast, this Yuletide comedy is a major drag.
By Sarah Ward
December 09, 2016
By Sarah Ward
December 09, 2016

It should've been so easy. Everybody loves Christmas films that revel in the raucous side of the season, as the likes of Bad Santa (forget the sequel) and The Night Before demonstrated. Everyone loves Office Space-style workplace comedies as well. Combine the two, throw in a host of funny folks, and the jokes should write themselves… shouldn't they?

Perhaps that's the problem with Office Christmas Party — maybe directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck (The Switch, Blades of Glory), as well as the six different writers involved with conjuring up the story and screenplay, just assumed that's what would happen. They certainly thought that sticking to a formula as bland and straightforward as the film's title would work, and that mentioning beloved pop culture brands and figures such as Fast and Furious, Mad Men, David Bowie and Prince would rustle up some added affection. Alas, the last time office-based festive antics proved such a mess, it was in Die Hard. We all know how that turned out: fantastic as far as action flicks are concerned, but not so well for the people trapped inside Nakatomi Plaza.

Here, a Chicago building inhabited by the local branch of a computing firm provides the site of the chaos. Head honcho Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller) wants to throw the kind of annual party his dad, the former company head, would've been proud of — not the non-denominational holiday mixer with a gouda-stacked cheese platter that HR rep Mary (Kate McKinnon) is putting together. When his sister and interim CEO Carol (Jennifer Aniston) not only cancels the shindig, but threatens to lay off almost half of his staff, Clay and his chief technical officer Josh (Jason Bateman) spring into action. They plan to woo a possible big-shot client (Courtney B. Vance) by throwing an epic rager, with an inappropriate eggnog delivery system, a basketball star and all-round debauchery included.

Great party movies, like the recent Tina Fey/Amy Poehler vehicle Sisters, make you wish you were there. Bad party movies usually make you cringe — and no, that's not what Office Christmas Party actually wants to do. Frankly, it's attempting too much already. With X-Men: Apocalypse's Olivia Munn, Workaholics' Jillian Bell, Saturday Night Live's Vanessa Bayer and The Neon Demon's Abbey Lee also among the cast, the film isn't short on subplots involving professional and romantic troubles. As if that weren't enough, a revolutionary new way to access the internet also plays a significant part in proceedings.

Mixing an over-stuffed story, predictably bad behaviour, and Santa suits and Christmas lights aplenty, Office Christmas Party proves the type of supposedly outrageous comedy that feels like it was designed by committee. To be fair, that is how most real-life workplace gatherings of the sort come together, and they don't have the scene-stealing McKinnon to liven things up. Still, a party that's only enjoyable when one specific person pops up will always remain a drag, be it off-screen or on.

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