The good news is that if you're an anti-Christmas cynic just looking for a good ole' fashioned Christmas, or multi-denominational, raunchfest, you should be pretty darn satisfied with Office Christmas Party, the latest pairing of Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman and a film that, despite its immense flaws, has a cast that is just way too talented to actually let the thing fail.
The film is worth seeing for Jennifer Aniston alone, who seems to have acquired a taste as of late for rep-twisting characters with a seriously nasty streak. In this case, she's Carol Vanstone, interim CEO of her late father's international tech firm and the polar opposite of her freespirited brother, Clay (TJ Miller), who heads up the Chicago branch of the company and who gets by largely on the strength of his far more responsible and risk averse sidekick, Josh (Jason Bateman).
There isn't a surprise to be found in Office Christmas Party, a film that you know damn well is going to be about a financially struggling company trying to figure out a way to save itself and coming up with an idea that even those who are completely averse to common sense would know is a bad idea.
You also know, without question, that a whole bunch of things are going to go wrong along the way. You know, without question, that, in the end, despite complete chaos that somehow the day will be saved.
You know those two siblings with completely different leadership styles? You know darn well that in the end they're going to find common ground.
Oh, and you absolutely know that whatever role he plays that Jason Bateman is going to be the good guy who makes a slightly bad choice then proves himself still a good guy.
All of these things, for the record, do actually happen.
In fact, Office Christmas Party tries really, really hard to be a spontaneous film. It desperately wants to be a hard R-rated film that cuts across every hard R-rated film cliche' including the badass boss (Aniston), the screw up with a heart of gold (Miller), the responsible nerd (Bateman), the "by the book" administrative type (Kate McKinnon), the adorably sympathetic woman who's lonely (Vanessa Bayer), the raging lunatic that every office has (Rob Corddry), the straight-laced potential company savior (Courtney B. Vance) and the list goes on and on.
Again, they're all actually here. Seriously.
Now then, here's the weird thing. Despite all this predictability and despite all these raunchfest stereotypes, Office Christmas Party still manages to be a pretty damn funny flick if you dial down the expectations and just let yourself have a good time.
Co-directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck (Blades of Glory), Office Christmas Party kicks into high gear when Aniston's Carol shows up determined to lay off 40% of the Chicago office, cancels all holiday bonuses and makes it clear that there is to be no holiday party. At all. Clay, however, is determined to lift the morale in an already fractured office and gets an agreement that if they can snag the Data City contract, via schmoozing with Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance), there will no layoffs. After a meeting with Walter doesn't yield a deal, Clay opts to invite Walter to the office's previously cancelled holiday party to prove to him that they have a company culture that rivals the bigger players.
Let's just say the party gets a little out of control. In case you keep track of these types of things, yes, it's true. There's full frontal nudity - both male and female. This ain't a flick for the kiddies.
There are laughs to be found in Office Christmas Party, though most of them are found because this is just an immensely talented cast that could make reading an empty toilet paper roll funny. Aniston's an absolute hoot as Carol, prying laughs out of dry scenes such as when she pops in for a surprise visit to the newly divorced Josh's incredibly humble abode. She has a lot to say about it and most of it is incredibly funny.
22 Jump Street's Jillian Bell has a field day as Trina, the slightly off-kilter head of an escort service who takes multiple one-note scenes and turns them into a comedic symphony. Speaking of comedic symphony, Kate McKinnon is hilarious as a straight-laced HR person whose particular costume for the evening is unforgettable and whose behavior is comedy brilliance. Vanessa Bayer, another current SNL player who just so happens to regularly serve up a spot-on take on Aniston's iconic Rachel character, gives the film plenty of laughs and some needed emotional heft as Allison, a nerdy background player whose maternal instincts seem to attract the weirdos.
While Jason Bateman will never be accused of having tremendous range, he's perfected what he does and to his credit he never phones in a performance. Josh is a role Bateman could play in his sleep - he doesn't sleep his way through it and the film's better for it. TJ Miller is better as a comic than an actor, though the film's overly calculated spontaneity hinders his performance and he never quite sells the film's more sentimental scenes. Olivia Munn is paired nicely as an underling of Bateman's harboring a not so secret crush, though her character's intelligence is never really given a spark and neither is her connection with the now available Josh. While much is made of serious actor Courtney B. Vance's presence here, the truth is he's not given much to do beyond vacillating between buttoned-up Walter and outrageous Walter. It almost feels like they didn't know what to do with someone who could actually act. So, they didn't ask him to act.
But then, there we go again.
Despite all its flaws, Office Christmas Party remains a solid pick with plenty of laughs for the holiday cynic seeking a less sentimental cinematic experience. If you're looking for brilliant cinema, then odds are in favor that you know a film called Office Christmas Party ain't gonna' give it to you. If all you want is to escape for a couple hours and have some outrageous, modestly edgy and definitely R-rated laughs, then Office Christmas Party should do the job.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic