Film Review: Office Christmas Party

A cornucopia of comedians, this business-world farce sports great individual bits and beautifully meshed performances by T.J. Miller and Jennifer Aniston. Before descending into excess, it's an amusing-enough showcase for some of the best comics around.
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One might be forgiven for thinking Office Christmas Party is a spinoff of the Horrible Bosses franchise, given the presence of both Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston, but this raucous, occasionally raunchy farce is its own thing: an all-star game of great comedians. And while all-star teams don't always come together as seamlessly as you'd like, what they lack in cohesion they make up for in virtuosity—anchored, in this case, by a veteran whose fastball shows no sign of slowing and a rookie of the year who can hit it out of the park.

The former would be Jennifer Aniston, who blows past her sweetheart persona to play the movie's Scrooge with seemingly effortless comic timing and precision. Haters, you be calling her lightweight, but every expression and bit of body language here, coupled with the no-nonsense venom of her line delivery, punctuates perfectly. Opposite her, the ascendant T.J. Miller—who's been onscreen since 2008 but never until now the lead of a major-studio movie—is a piece of mercury she can't get a grip on, slipping out of her grasp to a slow burn of comic frustration. Orbiting around them is an orchestra of eccentrics, grounded by straight men Jason Bateman and Olivia Munn, without whom the escalating bedlam would be anarchy rather than (mostly) controlled chaos.

Miller plays Clay Vanstone, the big-hearted, self-consciously man-childish head of the Chicago branch of Zenotek, the technology firm founded by his late father. Aniston is his resentful sister Carol, CEO of the company entire, who's understandably annoyed at having always had to be the responsible one while people continually let her charmer brother slide scot-free. While the branch he runs is profitable, it's not profitable enough to stay open, she says, insisting it can't even afford to throw a holiday party. But in time-honored comedy fashion, she'll give Clay and his cohorts one slim shot at turning things around. If they can convince a major corporation's rep (Courtney B. Vance) to put Zenotek's tech in their stores, the branch will be saved.

Naturally, the only thing that can save it is showing the rep a world-class time at the Christmas party they're not allowed to have. But with Carol away, the mice will play. Carol winds up not staying away, obviously. What's less obvious is what she does to Russian gangsters.

That's one of the many things that come pretty delightfully out of left field, so to speak. Others include a maternal, psychotic pimp (Jillian Bell), the way-too-tightly wound head of H.R. (Kate McKinnon), a raging customer-service exec (Rob Corddry), and a meek accountant with a fetish that does sort of tie into being meek (Randall Park). Providing great quick hits are the likes of Fortune Feimster ("The Mindy Project"), Vanessa Bayer ("Saturday Night Live"), Oliver Cooper ("Red Oaks"), Da'Vine Joy Randolph ("People of Earth") and Sam Richardson and Matt Walsh ("Veep").

So why, with so much talent on display, is the film less laugh-inducing than chucklesome? The slapstick bits are done with skill if not inventiveness; the improv-heavy dialog lands solidly. And a couple of particularly vulgar moments—one involving oral sex on an eggnog-spewing ice sculpture, another involving a penis and a 3D printer—aren't lingered on too heavily, all things considered. It may be that the scope of the setting gets away from co-directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon (Blades of Glory and the Aniston-Bateman film The Switch), who seem to subscribe to the John Landis more-is-more school of comedy. They utilize more extras than the population of several of the smaller states, and the mayhem eventually achieves a mean-spirited tone. But until then, individual performances are often outstanding. If Office Christmas Party isn't exactly Office Space, it's also not Head Office.

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