Office Christmas Party (Josh Gordon/Will Speck, 2016) 2 out of 4 stars
There is something both comfortably and distressingly familiar about Office Christmas Party, a simultaneously laid-back and frenetic comedy about underdogs who triumph over adversity of their own making. Filled with talented-enough actors who have long since given up any and all ambition to rise above this kind of low-risk, lowbrow yuckfest, the movie offers some genuine laughs amid an overall forgettable by-the-numbers template. We know that lessons will be learned, the vicious corporate climber will see the light, and no one will be seriously hurt, though perhaps some blood will be shed on the way to a pat resolution. For what it is, it’s relatively entertaining; I’ve seen worse, though I’ve also seen a lot better.
Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck know this territory well, with films like Blades of Glory and The Switch, the latter of which also stars Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman, who themselves have acted together in a number of other sometimes-funny films of similar stripe, such as Horrible Bosses and its sequel, Horrible Bosses 2. They and the rest of the multiracial cast – which includes Vanessa Bayer (Trainwreck), Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters), T.J. Miller (Deadpool), Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse), Randall Park (The Interview, and Trainwreck, too), Karan Soni (Deadpool and Ghostbusters, as well) and Courtney B. Vance (Terminator Genisys), among a large ensemble – have a seemingly good time reveling in the messy mayhem of the plot, which concerns the attempt by a hapless boss (Miller) to prevent his sister (Aniston) from closing down the Chicago branch of their family’s IT company. To keep his office afloat, Miller decides to throw a no-holds-barred office party for Christmas (hence the title), and soon all hell breaks loose. The jokes come easy, and when they land the result is pleasant hilarity. When they don’t, it’s a harmless misfire.
I just wish the affair weren’t quite so lazy (best epitomized by the tired cliché of the not-very-funny outtakes over the end credits). Everyone here is capable of more than this (maybe not the directors, however), though I can’t imagine it hurts a lot to earn a paycheck this way, and maybe that’s the appeal. Still, if one keeps expectations low, then Office Christmas Party delivers just enough payoff (even if, at 105 minutes, it’s about 15 minutes too long) to mostly justify its existence.