THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY"
Jennifer Aniston is pretty good at playing mean employers. Following her success as a dentist who sexually harasses her employee in Horrible Bosses, she now plays a fun-hating CEO in Office Christmas Party. This R-rated comedy looks, at first glance, like just another excuse to indulge in dumb, raunchy humor. Surprisingly, there's a story rooting all the sex and drug jokes. It's not the greatest story, nor is it the deepest, but it's there, and it makes the film better than expected.
Aniston plays Carol Vanstone, the interim CEO of her late father's technology company. She has plans to shut down any branch office that isn't performing up to her impossible standards, including the one in Chicago that's run by her ditzy-but-sincere brother Clay (T.J. Miller). Clay and his Chief Technical Officer, Josh Parker (Jason Bateman), are given two days to save everyone's jobs by signing a multi-million dollar contract with an important client, Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance). Their plan is to invite him to the office Christmas party Carol has expressly forbid them from throwing. They figure that they can show him a good time, then get his interest in a new piece of tech designed by their in-house genius, Tracy (Olivia Munn). The party, of course, gets out of hand, thanks to an excess of booze and a packet of cocaine, thereby threatening the success of Clay and Josh's plan.
We've all heard stories of companies laying off employees right at the holidays. It's a terrible situation no one would ever want to be in. Office Christmas Party capitalizes on that idea to give the hijinks a little more of a reason to exist. The staff members know their jobs are on the line, so they're partying, in part, to avoid thinking about the worst. Josh and Clay, meanwhile, take on the weight of knowing that the people they work alongside every day will suffer an unfortunate professional fate if they screw up. That idea is just enough to keep the raunchy humor from feeling gratuitous.
As with any R-rated comedy, the jokes can be hit or miss. More of them hit because the plot justifies them to a sufficient degree. And some of them are just plain old funny. Kate McKinnon is typically terrific as an uptight HR rep who tries to keep everyone in compliance with corporate policy while they indulge in hedonistic behavior. Vanessa Bayer and Randall Kim play employees whose burgeoning affair is thwarted by a bizarre fetish. And while she's not in the office, comedian Fortune Feimster steals the show as the world's sassiest Uber driver.
The leads are funny, too. Miller is always great playing an earnest doofus. Watching Bateman's more down-to-earth Josh try to balance out his old friend's half-baked ideas is fun. The two actors meld their individual comic rhythms together nicely. For her part, Aniston gets to chew the scenery as a petulant killjoy who doesn't suffer fools – or anyone else, for that matter – gladly. A confrontation between Carol and a little girl in an airport provides one of the film's biggest laughs.
Actually, there were about seven or eight things in Office Christmas Party that made me laugh really hard. Even the requisite “photocopying your privates” joke is handled with a fresh, hilarious spin. Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck (Blades of Glory) provide a good balance between the jokes and the more story-based moments. Things do sag a bit in the last fifteen minutes, where a significant problem resolves itself in an unconvincingly convenient fashion. At least that's better than a raunchy comedy that doesn't care about plot at all.
Office Christmas Party doesn't quite hit the highs of some modern R-rated comedies (the original The Hangover, Neighbors), but it's leagues better than a lot of them (Dirty Grandpa, the Hangover sequels). A first-rate cast and some moments of sharp humor give it enough kick to be a good time.
( out of four)
Office Christmas Party is rated R for crude sexual content and language throughout, drug use and graphic nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.
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