Here’s a get rich quick scheme: take all the money you’d otherwise spend on “raunchy holiday comedies” and invest it.
Actually, that’s not fair. Last year’s “The Night Before” was a bona fide classic with both maturity and festivity, so that’s a few bucks you can safely spend on the adult Christmas film niche. But “Office Christmas Party” — one of this month’s multiple offerings to the unholy genre — misses the point almost entirely.
Juvenile humor, shoehorned in Christmas vibes, and a plot thinner than string lights do not a good “adult holiday film” make.
Let’s work backwards through that little summary for a couple reasons: one, the review will get more positive as it unfolds (‘tis the season of giving); two, it will be more structurally interesting than “Office Christmas Party.”
If you want to get the thrust of the movie’s story without actually watching it, just find the clip in which multiple characters say “office Christmas party” in quick succession. It’s the holiday season. There’s a wild party. There are office problems that aren’t anything a few Christmas miracles can’t fix. Put an R-rated bow on it and young adults will see it in droves.
The entire plot is delivered through dialogue. The main characters constantly spout exposition and openly state their motives; characters that know other characters introduce their arcs and motives by just spelling them out to everyone else. It’s as if the seven story scribes and screenwriters (wait- seven? How many people does it take to write a mediocre movie?) were struggling to invent reasons for “Office Christmas Party” to exist while they wrote the final draft.
I can see them writing the third act now: “movies are supposed to have conflict, right? Toss a lot in there now. And make it Christmassy.”
Directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon have assembled a coherent narrative before: their “Blades of Glory” was a comical send-up of sports film structures.
On the other hand, “Office Christmas Party” lacks the persistent strangeness of that movie and the strong thematic core of vulgar holiday peer The Night Before: it is predictable and indistinguishable from the glut of crazy party movies.
“But is it funny!?” you scream, brandishing a sharpened candy cane. Just like the story, most of the jokes are delivered through dialogue alone. The raucous scenes that litter “Office Christmas Party” live or die by how funny their one-liners are and the ability of the actors saying them. About 20 percent of the lines land with hilarity. That’s not a scientific assessment, but it’s fair to say that I only chuckled at one out of every five jokes.
The ratio of talented actors fares much better though. The four that end up becoming the central group — Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T. J. Miller and Kate McKinnon — all have flawless comedic timing. Miller and McKinnon exude humor like it’s all they’ve ever known; Bateman and Munn have genuine chemistry.
In the spirit of (for)giving, what’s the nicest thing I can say about Office Christmas Party? Well, it is a marvel of controlling hundreds of extras that are all doing ridiculous things. It’s still a poor film though-ho-ho.
★★ (2 out of 5)