Office Christmas Party Film Review: An Excessive Holiday Romp That Fails to Sleigh

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ocp-banner-1All images courtesy of Paramount Pictures

The best thing about the holiday season is the staple holiday comedy that comes out every year to bring out more joy and cheer in all of us. As of late, Hollywood seems to think that audiences need something that’s edgy, R-rated and full of F-bombs, debauchery, and lowbrow humor to get us into the holiday spirit. Last year, it came in the form of The Night Before which met the minimum requirements of a raunchy comedy holiday romp, and this year, OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY was passed the torch. With an all-star cast and numerous trailers that promised a rip roarin’ good time, it delivers some hearty laughs, but even the jokes can’t hide the fact that this movie — even with its phenomenal cast — is a failure.

The movie’s premise seems fairly simple and straight-forward — and if you have watched the trailers, you have a pretty firm grasp on the story. It centers on a tech company whose evil CEO Carol (Jennifer Aniston) is looking to make some major changes to the company — and that includes closing the Chicago branch run by Clay (T.J. Miller), her careless, party monster of a brother with a heart of gold. But with the help of his Chief Technical Officer Josh (Jason Bateman) and tech/hacker genius Tracey (Olivia Munn), Clay convinces Carol that they will woo Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) a potential client that can give them a massive deal that will save the branch, thus saving all their jobs. Against Carol’s demands, Clay decides to throw a huge Christmas bash at the office to impress Walter. One thing leads to another and the party gets out of hand and it becomes a dumpster fire of insanity. What is supposed to be a fun, simple story about a party gone wild turns into a mess of plot points that weigh the movie down, making us ask, “Why did they have to include all of this crap?”

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Directed by Blades of Glory helmers Josh Gordon and Will Speck, expectations for Office Christmas Party were pretty high. It was to be a comedic touchstone in a holiday movie season of Oscar bait films and schmaltzy moral lessons in humanity. The movie was posed to be something everyone could connect to: the yearly Office Christmas Party that everyone looked forward to, but ended up hating it when they were actually there. That pretty much explains the whole emotional journey of the movie — and it’s a shame considering every actor appearing in the pic. In addition to the aforementioned main players, Kate McKinnon as the HR manager steals every scene (as usual) while talent like Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Rob Corddry, Sam Richardson, Karan Soni, and the highly underrated and overlooked Jillian Bell bring the funny in the best way possible. But the problem was not in the talent, but in the army of writers that concocted this story. Justen Malen, Laura Solon, and Dan Mazer are credited as screenwriters while Jon Lucas, Scott Moore, and Timothy Dowling came up with the story. The movie was clearly a case of “too many cooks in the kitchen” as the story splintered off in ways that didn’t flow and turned the movie into that re-gifted fruitcake no one wants to eat.

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The story was overcomplicated when it didn’t need to be. All the audience wants to see is Clay trying to hide the fact that he is having this crazy party from his uptight sister with the occasional crazy, unexpected antics from a prestigious thespian like Courtney B. Vance. From this, we get a heartfelt story exploring the relationship between Clay and Carol and the dynamics of sibling rivalry. That’s where it should have stopped, but more stories and details were piled on including the half-baked relationship between Josh and Tracey, a guy hiring a prostitute to be his date at the party, a car chase, a backroom at shady bar where Jennifer Aniston can use her Krav Maga skills, moments of gratuitous nudity, a cameo from Jimmy Butler, weird fetishes, and then there is an entire storyline about how to get Internet connection from thin air — the movie lacked a primary focus. It’s understandable that this movie is supposed to be a wild and unhinged movie about your typical office Christmas party, but….what?

It pains to drag the movie over the coals because of the talented cast, but none of the details outside of the party meshed well and the movie struggled to be the good ol’ fashioned “party movie” it wanted to be. Also, there was no gradual build up to make the party insane. One moment it was tame and the next minute, people were having sex in the bathroom stalls and jousting with flaming Christmas trees. The movie tried to put the party in the background and detached, random stories front and center. No one cares about that latter. They just want to see a simple story effortless sewn into a hedonistic holiday party.

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This “party” comedy follows in the footsteps of recent movies like 21 & Over and Project X where a gigantic, unrealistically insane blowout is expected to keep a movie-going audience entertained for nearly two hours but ends up being a sloppy mess that the talented cast did not deserve. The moment of genuine humor come from moments that were most likely improvised and not on the pages of an overcomplicated script that made it seem like this was four different movies rolled into one.

Office Christmas Party is exactly what you would expect from : a party where everyone expects a huge bonus but ends up walking out with a company-branded mousepad and a $5 gift card to Starbucks. It puts the “meh” in Merry Christmas.

Rated:  R
Running time: 105 minutes

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Dino watches too much TV, enjoys reality singing competitions and laughs inappropriately during dramatic films. He’s a fan of comedy, podcasts, and comedy podcasts. He’s a reformed comic book geek and thinks “The Goonies” is the best movie of all time. When he isn’t stuffing his face with a burrito, he’s thinking about his next trip to Disneyland.
Follow Dino on Twitter: @dinoray
Keep up with all of Dino’s reviews and stories here.

 | Staff Writer
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