‘Office Christmas Party’ gives guests, and viewers, minimal fun

Jan 6, 2017

Movie Review

It may be past the holiday season, but a fact that stands year-round is that one of the toughest things to do in movies is a successful Christmas comedy. There are classic exceptions, such as “A Christmas Story” and “Home Alone,” but many others go for the laughs without adding the heart.

The latest in that line is “Office Christmas Party,” but you can tell from the ads that it’s going for bawdy yuletide humor, so it should come as no surprise that that’s precisely what you get from it.

Jennifer Aniston does her “Horrible Bosses” act again as … well, a horrible boss who vows to slice the staff of a tech company’s Chicago office in half, unless it can boost its quarterly returns before the soon-to-end year is out. To keep the focus on work, she cancels the office Christmas party. And of course, just as the name of the movie tells us, that simply will not do.

What’s potentially good about a premise like this is that you can assemble a wide variety of performers as the workers. Here, they include Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn and Emmy winners Courtney B. Vance (“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story”) and Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”). “SNL’s” Vanessa Bayer and Randall Park (“Fresh Off the Boat”) also show up, and they all mix and match in various combinations, but those never really mesh.

The most notable co-star turns out to be comic T.J. Miller, and it’s more for what he doesn’t do – his usual walk on the wild side, playing characters who are very much on the edge. There’s a sweet spirit to his portrayal here of the office manager, who’s the brother of Aniston’s much more brusque and self-involved alter ego. The vast difference between the siblings is what sets them apart, and where Miller benefits.

Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck are known for taking what seem to be very basic subjects (an office Christmas party, a figure-skating competition in “Blades of Glory,” a surrogate pregnancy in the Aniston-and-Bateman-starring “The Switch”) and trying to make them spectacles of offbeat humor. Often, one moment may not work while the next one might, but the ratio ultimately is too “off” in this case.

It’s a dilemma when a party doesn’t come together, and for all its lopsided seasonal spirit, that’s a problem shared by “Office Christmas Party.”

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