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OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY Brings Raunch, But Too Few Laughs (Review)

OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY Brings Raunch, But Too Few Laughs (Review)

There’s an odd bit of magic at company-mandated holiday celebrations. Employees and employers are encouraged to let their hair down and mingle, with the help of free, flowing booze and the implied promise of a relaxation of HR rules. So what better space to set an R-rated yuletide comedy than the titular office Christmas party?

The latest from co-directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck (Blades of Glory, The Switch), Office Christmas Party is bursting with comedy stars. T.J. Miller leads the cast as the branch manager of his late father’s tech company, while Jennifer Aniston plays his seething sister/the cynical corporate overlord dedicated to shutting him down. With jobs on the line, Miller’s kindhearted boss pulls together his work family (Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, Rob Corddry, Kate McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Karan Soni, and Jamie Chung) to throw the most rip-roaring office Christmas party Chicago has ever seen. With that, he hopes to save his branch by impressing a could-be client (Courtney B. Vance), who values a familial corporate culture.

The plot makes little sense to begin with, yet makes even less as the script (penned by a small army) winds in daddy issues, job offers, cutting-edge wifi tech, a halfhearted office romance, and an anxiety-riddled yet ambitious pimp (standout Jillian Bell). Amid all this, the party itself is relegated to an odd, amorphous, and dedicatedly raunchy backdrop. Gordon and Speck deliver plenty of wacky or wild imagery, from water coolers stocked with tequila, to a snowman-suited dance number, and plenty of nudity that climaxes with a high-tech upgrade of standard shenanigans like photo-copied butts. (Hint: it involves a 3D printer and full-frontal nudity.) But the central shindig feels like a gimmick rather than the film’s foundation, especially as several subplots collude to pull a prime pack of characters away from the party.

Though the movie is riddled with stories, few are worth following. While Miller gives his earnest all to playing a daffy and affable boss, Aniston is on cold-hearted cruise control, so their conflicts score the former all the laughs. Bateman is pitched between them, meant to be the loving but stern Kermit amid a bunch of clamoring Muppets. But he’s phoning in the straight man role, too bored to even give credible enthusiasm to his onscreen romance with Munn’s acerbic engineer. The central story feels flat; the love line fails to sizzle. But thankfully there are supporting players aplenty to help make this wasted opportunity watchable.

Best-known for playing the confused cabbie in Deadpool, Soni gives spirit to as the flustered office geek. Park brings some deranged delights as the socially awkward crush of a foul-mouthed secretary played by Bayer, who busts with amusing frustration. McKinnon scores laughs, but feels hemmed in as the repressed yet quirky head of Human Resources. Vance, in stark contrast to his rep as an Emmy-winning dramatic actor, bares his zany side (and backside) in service to comedy. But Bell steals this movie.

In Office Christmas Party‘s most inventive bit of casting, Bell, who upstaged Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in 22 Jump Street, plays a hard-nosed pimp named Trina. Popping such a character into a city-set comedy is a cliche, but Gordon and Speck make it fresh by rejecting the expected casting of a burly, intimidating dude, and instead offering a plucky and plump young woman in cheetah-print, who is a self-proclaimed “hugger.” But she still carries a big gun. I mean that both literally, in that Trina does not hesitate to brandish a weapon to instill fear into her johns, and metaphorically, in that Bell is fearless and inventive in making the most out of her brief but hysterical screen time.

Gordon and Speck make a lot of fumbles in the execution of Office Christmas Party. McKinnon is miscast, and they gave Aniston and Bateman roles so deep in their niches that their scenes could have been lifted out of their other movies. Perhaps worst of all, the directors’ edit cuts this comedy in such a clipped manor that many, many jokes get cut off at the knees. The shot often jumps away from delivery, demanding audiences focus on something else before the punchline has even had a chance to hit them. And with this disjointed LOOK AT THIS, NOW LOOK OVER HERE pacing, Office Christmas Party lands about one joke out of five. Despite this average, there’s plenty of jokes one after another after another, so it’s still funny enough. Considering the cast and the concept, it still feels like a letdown.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

2.5 burritos

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