Review: “Office Christmas Party” (R)

L-R: T.J. Miller, Courtney B. Vance and Rob Corddry in “Office Christmas Party”; Paramount Pictures(NEW YORK) — Office Christmas Party is the equivalent of a major league baseball roster that has an all-star at every position — yet the team finishes in last place.

This cast! C’mon! Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, Jason Bateman, T.J. Miller, Olivia Munn, Vanessa Bayer, Jillian Bell, Randall Pak, Rob Coddry — the list goes on. I mean, do you really even need a plot?  Just put ‘em all in a room, set up the cameras, turn on some lights, yell “Action!” and start filming. The results are bound to be hilarious. Right?


The six people who wrote this movie — that’s right, six, not counting any lines the cast improvised — set up the the titular party as a means to save the Chicago branch of a company called Zenotech. T.J. Miller, one of the rare comedians whose mere presence is funny, plays Clay Vanstone. He runs the Chicago office, which he inherited from his father. His sister, Carol (Aniston), the interim CEO of Zenotech, hates her brother and gives him until the end of the night to close a 14-million-dollar deal with with a company represented by Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance).  If he doesn’t, she’ll shut down the office.

Recently-divorced Josh Parker (Jason Bateman) is Zenotech’s chief technical officer and Clay’s best friend. He also supervises Tracey (Olivia Munn), a genius developer who, conveniently — meaning as a plot device —  has been working on a revolutionary idea.

But that’s not important right now. What’s important is Clay, Josh and Tracey need to “close” Walter — and the only way to do that, obviously, is to throw the wildest Christmas office party ever!

I’m not saying this movie is bereft of laughs. Even teams that finish last can make a few good plays, and this talented cast is going to give us some funny moments, regardless.  But this is a serious case of a bunch of writers who couldn’t get out of their own way.  

The funniest “party” movies feature plots born out of natural circumstances.  That just doesn’t happen here.  Office Christmas Party offers a number of contrivances to unnecessarily raise and complicate the stakes. Undeniably, Miller is going to hit nine out of 10 times.  Jillian Bell continues her ascent toward the top of Hollywood’s funniest actor list, and Courtney B. Vance, Emmy and Tony winner that he is, fully commits to the best-written character in this movie, and nails it.

But the rest of Office Christmas Party, and it’s formidable cast, is wasted.

Two out of five stars.

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