OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Director: Josh Gordon, Will Speck
Written by: Justin Malen, Laura Solon, Dan Mazer from a story by Jon Lucas, Scott Moore, Timothy Dowling
Cast: Jennifer Aniston, T.J. Miller, Jason Bateman, Kate McKinnon, Olivia Munn, Courtney B. Vance
Screened at: Regal E-Walk, NYC, 12/6/16
Opens: December 9, 2016
Some decades back, high school teachers (like me) enjoyed Christmas parties before they were called Holiday Parties or End-of-Season affairs. But because of some new rules that bureaucrats at the Department of Education thought up, these parties could no longer be held on school grounds. No matter: it’s not as though we had drunken orgies. We were just a bunch of mostly middle-aged, somewhat scholarly people who would not think of trying to smuggle a bottle of bourbon or some lines of coke into sacred school grounds.
But private business, we learn from “Office Christmas Party,” is another thing altogether. Offices such as the one on exhibit in Chicago (where this was filmed as well as in Atlanta) did not have to worry about complaining neighbors, since the affairs are held twenty floors or more away from any residences. Yet in the imaginations of Josh Gordon and Will Speck, who direct this Paramount production and writers Justin Malen, Laura Solon and Dan Mazer who adapt a story by Jon Lucas, Scott Moore, and Timothy Dowling, the CEO of Zenotek has banned anything that smelled or tasted like a party.
Naturally, the staff are able to ignore her orders, given that she is supposed to be on a flight to London. Perhaps everyone is looking for a way to forget, since with profits below corporate demands, forty percent of the staff are due to be fired to save money. Even worse: Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston) as the Big Cheese, threatens to close the Chicago office entirely.
What passes from there is a movie that is part wild festivities and part discussions about what to do to keep all the jobs intact. They realize that if they win an account from a company led by Walter (Courtney B. Vance), considered a long shot because Walter does not like the Zenotek culture, their jobs are all saved.
“Office Christmas Party” turns into the usual succession of skits that could have come from Saturday Night Live and, in fact, uses many of that program’s performers and at least one who has had delightful experiences on the Jon Stewart Daily Show. Writers Malen, Solon and Mazer keep the gags rolling in the fast-paced style of cable TV and are graced by actors known for their comedic skills. As Josh Parker, Jason Bateman might be considered the life of your party, but in the context of this movie he is positively sedate and useful and a catalyst for some of the physical and verbal gags.
On the other hand T.J. Miller as Clay Vanstone, life-of-the-party type and the CEO’s brother who is independently wealthy from a trust fund, becomes the target of some comic gangsters who run an escort service with Abbey Lee Kershaw as the hot Savannah, but who are not against taking $300,000 taped to Clay’s body which he intends to use to provide bonuses for all the workers.
Naturally some of the jokes are flat, particularly anything said in a Chicago Uber driven by Fortune Feimster who somehow thinks that repeating the name “Carol” a great many times is amusing. Probably best of all is Tracey (Olivia Munn), who in the midst of the anarchy still comes across as a voice of reason as Lead Systems Engineer Tracey. There is considerable damage done to the office and to a couple of cars as you might expect—Christmas trees falling in a department store, for example. But the best single joke of the day can be missed if you blink: Daniel Jackson as Jesus, who is together with contemporaries from the First Century, exclaims in the elevator: “It’s my birthday.” If only the jokes were of that quality throughout, this would be a picture to draw in a quieter audience as well as the presumed millennial target.
Rated R. 106 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C+
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B