“Comedy is simply a funny way of being serious” – Peter Ustinov
The premise of Office Christmas Party is simple. “Clay Vanstone” (T.J. Miller) runs the Chicago branch of the family company, Zenotek. His sister “Carol Vanstone” (Jennifer Aniston) became the company’s interim CEO after the death of their father and she wants that word interim removed from her title. To achieve that aim she is closing underperforming branches and closing the Chicago branch would kill two birds with one stone. Not only would the bottom line improve but it would be a chance to stick it to her brother.
Clay manages to get Carol to promise not to close the branch if he can close the deal with an IT buyer named “Walter Davis” (Courtney B. Vance). Since the deal involves $14 million in annual billings Carol is hot for the idea. Clay enlists the help of the branch’s real manager, “Josh Parker” (Jason Bateman) and the programming wunderkind “Tracey Hughes” (Olivia Munn) in putting on the office Christmas party that Carol had canceled. But not just any party, they want a party to convince Walter that Zenotek is a “family” where the people who work there are happy because they are treated like part of that family.
The problem is that the reality is almost no one at the Chicago branch is happy. The Human Resource Manager “Mary Winetoss” (Kate McKinnon) makes Amish people seem too permissive while “Jeremy” (Rob Corddry) gives new meaning to the phrase bad attitude. There are two geeks who hack everything under the sun, including the Facebook pages of women they want to hit on and they are supervised by “Nate” (Karan Soni), who hasn’t learned that inventing a hot imaginary girlfriend never works out the way you want it to.
Nate hires an escort named “Savannah” (Abbey Lee) to pretend to be that girlfriend and that introduces her pimp “Trina” (Jillian Bell) into the storyline. Trina is too tightly wrapped for any career, let alone pimping. The last portion of the film turns into Josh, Tracey, Mary and surprisingly Carol needed to rescue Clay from Trina before something bad happens.
There is plenty of crude, lewd and rude antics, more than enough to justify the film’s “R” rating. Drinking, drugs, sex, and a cartoon drawing that might surprise some do generate laughs. The best parts of the film are the arcs involving the supporting players, who almost save Office Christmas Party from being below the line of comic mediocrity. Even the third act’s homage to one of the great comedies of our time, The Blues Brothers isn’t enough to set this film above the other bad holiday comedies it emulates and imitates.
Jennifer Aniston plays the bitch very well and Kate McKinnon is simply brilliant as Mary. But Jason Bateman as someone who always chooses the safe path has been done. Perhaps part of the problem is the too much factor. Five writers, two directors and way too much improvisation fail to provide funny dialogue to go along with the sight and raunchy gags. A good rule of thumb is to skip the company holiday party but if you want laughs, don’t skip this one.