Movie review: ‘Office Christmas Party’

Raunchy comedy is almost always funny no matter how bad the movie. However, mixing the Christmas holiday with raunchy comedy almost always leaves you on one side of the fence or another – a hater or a lover. Today, I’m looking at “Office Christmas Party” from 2016. It’s certainly not the vile crap you find with Billy Bob Thornton’s “Bad(der) Santa” or the mediocre swill that is “A Very Harold & Kumar 3-D Christmas,” but it certainly is funny while not being great cinema. So, if you like raunchy comedy, then make sure you check out “Office Christmas Party” since it has some nice work by several of the main players and not a bad job to spot anywhere.

‘Office Christmas Party’
(2016; 105 minutes; rated R; directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck and starring Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston and T.J. Miller)

HO … AND THEN THEY’RE JOINED BY THE BLOW!

Yes, “Office Christmas Party” is a movie set with the holiday as its backdrop. Just like “Christmas Vacation” (click here for my review) or “A Christmas Story” (click here for my review). However, “Office Christmas Party” isn’t really a Christmas movie. It’s totally R-rated raunchy comedy that will split your sides.

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Plus, you get superstar Jennifer Aniston, who makes her character in “Office Christmas Party” look like an extension of “Horrible Bosses” (click here for my review) and, finally, with “Office Christmas Party” you get the latest example of how Jason Bateman, while absolutely watchable onscreen and solid as an actor, is just not and never will be headliner material.

In the end, if you like this type of comedy, then you’ll like “Office Christmas Party.”

For those of you don’t get the message already, “Office Christmas Party” is a film where a bunch of people do a bunch of naughty things – and to its credit, it’s the first film I’ve seen where an actor puts a 3-D printer to naughty use. Also, the ice fountain is quite unique! Of course there are too many stereotypes to list here, but “Office Christmas Party” overcomes them all and even has a great product placement for a Kia minivan.

If you need a plot rundown, it’s simple: A neat technology company with a great staff that faces having its doors closed by a witchy interim CEO. It needs to land a big account to remain viable. It does this through a hard-charging Christmas party (are we allowed to say “Christmas” in the PC septic tank that is corporate America these days?) fueled by booze and drugs – yes, cocaine is shot through a snow machine, although accidentally. It all winds up with everyone a winner – even the guy hospitalized after cracking his spine in a dramatic fall while trying to swing from Christmas lights – and of course the stereotyped, uptight HR person comes out of her shell (with a capital “C”).

OK, so here’s a look at the main players:

  • As I’ve already written, Golden Globe winner (not for this one) Bateman can’t really carry a film. No doubt about it, Jason’s good here as “Josh Parker.” He’s watchable and gives a solid performance in every film in which I’ve seen him. So, I like him and his work. But, and it’s a big but, “Office Christmas Party” would have been much better off with a true headliner in comedy – say as you saw Tom Hanks in “Big,” “Bachelor Party” (click here for my review) or “Splash” (click here for my review). Bateman doesn’t make you turn away, but you’re not looking forward to his next scene, either. Still, you can’t complain that he detracts from the film – damning with faint praise, I’d say. Bateman won his Globe (and another nomination) for “Arrested Development” and was in “Horrible Bosses” and its sequel with Aniston (click here for my review of the original) and has been in films as diverse as “Juno” and “Smokin’ Aces” as well as being prolific on TV from “Little House on the Prairie” to “Scrubs” and I liked him in the film “Necessary Roughness” (click here for my review), where he wasn’t the headliner. Oooh, sorry Jason!
  • Golden Globe winner and two time nominee (not for this one) Aniston plays “Carol Vanstone” and is on a run with extreme bitch characters. Of course it turns around for her here and she does the entire film at a B+ to A- level, but there’s not enough for this to be a defining role. Aniston was especially good in “Horrible Bosses” but I liked her better in “We’re the Millers” and don’t forget she was in the cult classic “Office Space” (click here for my review).
  • This is the first film in which I recall noticing Olivia Munn. Of course, as a co-star, it’s difficult not to notice her. Also, because she does a splendid job as “Tracey Hughes.” Some of presentation of her status as the smartest-in-the-room is forced, but it’s easy to ignore this flaw. Munn knocks this one off with aplomb and provides a solid foundation for others in the cast. Munn was a correspondent for “The Daily Show” and has been in several sequels (including “Zoolander 2”), the “X-Men” franchise and will be in the women-based “Ocean’s Eight” that’s currently in post-production.
  • I was glad to see T.J. Miller here as “Clay Vanstone.” He’s the emotional side of the family and heads up the office that Aniston is looking to close. I first noticed Miller in “Deadpool” (click here for my review) and he is doing really good work in film. As “Clay,” he takes his character all the way from stumbling looney to save-the-company looney and manages to keep a smile on your face the whole way. Although a young-sh 35, he has an extensive resume of 72 credits since 2008 with “Cloverfield.”
  • Abbey Lee plays “Savannah,” who is the escort hired by one of the company managers to pose as his model-beautiful girlfriend. I don’t know why I like Lee’s performance and she has barely modest screen time, but when I think of this film, I think of her work first. She’s not great, but she can convey a character. I’d tell you what she’s been in other than “Office Christmas Party,” but she has only 12 credits beginning in 2011 and she’s nearly 30.
  • Saturday Night Live’s” standard is carried here by Kate McKinnon as “Mary Winetoss.” She’s the uptight human resources manager who spouts the usual wooden, ignorant, senseless and moronic phrases that are the hallmarks of the successful corporate drone today. However and of course, it’s not all as it appears. McKinnon does a great job as her character runs through the film gaining momentum with each scene. “Office Christmas Party” would have been a lot less effective with another actor in this role. In addition to “SNL,” she’s been in the putrid remake of “Ghostbusters” and voices in Disney’s “Finding Dory.”
  • I’m sorry to say that I knew that three-time Emmy winner (not for this one) Rob Corddry, who plays outspoken “Jeremy,” wouldn’t live up to his even more over-the-top work in “Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay” (click here for my review), but he’s hysterical here and comes up with a neat way to use the 3-D machine. Corddry looks as if he’d be funny in just about any role and he certainly pulls his weight here. He’s also been in “Hot Tub Time Machine” and won his Emmys and two nominations as a writer for “Childrens Hospital.”
  • Finally, I have to say the actor I enjoyed most is Courtney B. Vance, who plays “Walter Davis.” The staff has to convince Vance that he should sign a big contract with them. The party – and a shower of cocaine accidentally shot through a snow machine – proves the tipping point. Vance, who is best known to me for his work on TV’s “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (click here for my look at the franchise), does a workmanlike job here and I’m glad he’s in such a supporting role – because he, like Bateman, is no headliner. Still, Vance does a great job going from staid, straight-laced executive to swinging-from-the-rafters party guy. He never underplays it; nor does he overplay it. Good work, Courtney. He’s also been in “The Preacher’s Wife” and “Space Cowboys,” along with an extensive resume on TV. I liked him best as “Seaman Jones” on “The Hunt for Red October” (click here for my review).

What woulda, coulda, shoulda have happened is that “Office Christmas Party” not be an ensemble comedy. I call it that because despite Bateman being at the top of the cast and the film’s focus, it is as much others’ stories as it is his vehicle. So, what was needed was a stronger comedic presence … almost, let’s say, as defining and over-the-top as Ryan Reynolds is as “Deadpool.” That way, “Office Christmas Party” could have played out with a strong lead as identification for the film.

Oh, well, it’s still worth watching … and watching again.

Not unsurprisingly for a raunchy comedy film, “Office Christmas Party” came in 62nd at theaters for movies released in 2016. It brought in $54.7 million, according to Box Office Mojo, and lagged far, far behind the year’s No. 1 hit was “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” with $532 million (which in turn was followed closely by Disney’s “Finding Dory” with $486.2 million).

Office Christmas Party” was made on a budget of $45 million and has made $114.5 million worldwide, according to Wiki. The other films from the year that I’ve reviewed are the simply wonderful “Deadpool,” which came in sixth with $363 million in ticket sales and the sometimes hilarious “Dirty Grandpa” (click here for my review) with Robert De Niro and Zac Efron – it was 81st with $35.5 million.

One puzzling note about the film comes from this entry on IMDb.com’s trivia page: “At the conclusion of filming in Atlanta, furniture and props from the set were donated to the Furniture Bank of Metro Atlanta, a charity that gives away free furniture to people moving into stable housing from homelessness and domestic violence.” Frankly, I’m not really sure where they found any furniture left undamaged to make a donation!

Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

  • The title of the film was inspired by a skit from TV’s iconic “Saturday Night Live.”
  • NBA star Jimmy Butler was cast because of his close relationship with Mark Wahlberg.
  • Directly from IMDb.com: “Olivia Munn and T.J. Miller are both part of the X-Men film series, having both starred in a film each this year. Miller in Deadpool and Munn in X-Men: Apocalypse.”
  • Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “In the airport scene, Jennifer Aniston can be seen carrying the book “the Girl on the train” by Paula Hawkins. Oddly enough, her husband Justin Theroux was in the film version of the same book.”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2017.
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