the makings of being the funniest film of 2016, and feels like it could live up to its Die Hard meets The Hangover premise. Unfortunately, those moments don’t last nearly as long as they should, when Office Christmas Party all too often cuts away from the hilarious antics taking place throughout the titular “non-denominational holiday mixer” to move forward its plot or continue to drive home it’s cliche character relationships. In a film that should have just been content with the simplicity of its ridiculous premise, Office Christmas Party chooses instead to get too caught up in the minutia of its plot.
Picking up near the end of the year just when everyone is ready to punch out for the last time and rejoice in their annual holiday vacations, Office Christmas Party focuses on the employees and bosses of the Chicago branch of a large tech company named Zenotek. Led by T.J. Miller’s Clay Vanstone and Jason Bateman’s CTO, Josh Parker, everything starts to go haywire at the office when Clay’s sister, Carol (Jennifer Aniston), who’s also Zenotek’s interim CEO following the death of their father, threatens to not only shut down the branch altogether, but also demands that the end-of-the-year mixer be cancelled.
Of course, the latter demand is ignored when Josh and Clay plan on throwing the best office party in history, in order to try and seal the deal with Courtney B. Vance’s Walter Davis, who works for a company that could partner with Zenotek, and effectively save the Chicago branch from being completely shut down. Like it always does, everything quickly starts to spiral out of control then when drugs, alcohol, and the impending possibility of unemployment takes control of all of the employees at the party.
Now, if Office Christmas Party had just stuck to that simple, if not ridiculous set-up and story, the amount of hilarious debauchery and party antics that could have filled in the rest of the film’s run time is practically endless. Instead, the film, written and directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck, chooses to focus less on the legitimately funny opportunities staring right at them and more on the burgeoning relationship between Josh and Tracey (Olivia Munn), the technology head of the Chicago branch, her world-changing new invention for the internet, or one employee’s hiring of a hooker for the party.
The thing about Office Christmas Party is how it genuinely seems to care about its characters and story, but shows that by devolving it into a montage of cliches and forced character turns in the second half without even a hint of irony or self-awareness along the way. No character is left more wounded by that decision than Aniston’s Carol, who’s such an incredibly horrible person throughout the entirety of the film that it’s hard to even care about her at all when she begins to play a bigger role in the main storyline, and none of the other characters fare much better.
To their credit, both T.J. Miller and Jason Bateman bring their usual quirks to their roles, with Miller being the goofy corporate leader that Silicon Valley fans are more than familiar with him as, and Bateman playing his usual sarcastic, too-witty-for-his-own-good everyman sort of guy. Neither is bad, but neither is necessarily good, and they feel more like vessels for exposition and plot development at times than they do actually funny characters in the film.
So then, whether intentional or not, it’s the women of Office Christmas Party who end up saving the day more than anyone else. Kate McKinnon shines as H.R. head, Mary, whose constant nervous tics and penchant for trying to minimize as many offensive interactions between employees as possible garners some of the film’s biggest laughs in the final act, despite feeling like an unfortunately one-note disappointment throughout a majority of its first. Jillian Bell seemingly pops up out of nowhere as well as Trina, a pimp who sets her sights on Miller’s Clay, and who brandishes her handgun around to hilarious effects at times.
But even with those notable supporting performances, the biggest issue with Office Christmas Party in the end is how much of a missed opportunity it feels like. It’s not one of the worst comedies of the year by any means, and the set-pieces and memorable supporting characters do a lot to help it in the long run, but with a cast as stacked as the one it has, you can’t help but be confused why it wasn’t any better either.
Office Christmas Party has the makings of being a debaucherous, hilarious time at the theatre, but loses most of its steam by focusing too much on its cliched relationships and cringeworthy solutions to story problems. Not even Kate McKinnon wearing a non-denominational holiday sweater can help it there.