By HEATHER TURK
Front Row Features Film Critic
Although the trailers for “Office Christmas Party,” co-directed by Josh Gordon and Will Speck, make the R-rated comedy seem more naughty than nice, the hilarious holiday flick surprisingly has a lot of heart to it.
Starring a who’s who of some of comedy’s biggest stars, the film centers on a couple of siblings running their dearly departed father’s technology company, Zenotek. Sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston) is the tough-as-nails interim CEO everyone is afraid of while her fun-loving brother Clay (T.J. Miller, “Silicon Valley”) is the hard-partying head of the Chicago branch who all of the employees love. When Carol shows up unannounced the day of the office Christmas party to not only inform everyone that the party is off, but also to break the news to Clay that his branch hasn’t been doing as well as she wants so she’s canceling Christmas bonuses and going to lay off a number of his employees—if not shut down the branch altogether—Clay and his newly divorced chief technical officer Josh (Jason Bateman) convince her to give them one more chance to land a multi-million dollar deal that could save all of their jobs.
Unfortunately, Carol just came from closing down another Zenotek branch, and the prospective client Clay and Josh are meeting with, Walter (Courtney B. Vance, “The People v. O.J. Simpson”), isn’t too impressed with how Zenotek seems to treat its employees—especially around the holidays. So, Clay, Josh and Zenotek’s lead systems engineer Tracey (Olivia Munn, “The Newsroom”) come up with another way to land the deal: impress Walter by throwing an epic office Christmas party he’ll never forget to prove to him that Zenotek isn’t just another soulless company and that they treat their staff like family. What follows is an unforgettable night of debauchery, drunken shenanigans and holiday high jinks amongst co-workers as they literally party as though their jobs depended on it.
While there’s a snow-blowing machine that (unintentionally) shoots out cocaine and plenty of X-rated stuff happening in the copy room, surprisingly “Office Christmas Party” isn’t so much focused on the actual office Christmas party as viewers might have hoped. Instead, most of the party scenes are intercut with the actual storyline at hand to save the struggling business and later to save Clay when he goes on a drunken, drug-induced downward spiral with an escort (Abbey Lee, “Mad Max: Fury Road”) and her pimp (Jillian Bell, “Workaholics”). In the midst of all the craziness is tech whiz Tracey and her top-secret Zenotek project: an advancement in modern technology that would change the way people get online forever. If all that sounds a bit too convoluted for a 105-minute comedy, it probably is, but screenwriters Justin Malen, Laura Solon (“Hot in Cleveland”) and Dan Mazer (“Brüno”) do a decent job of packing in all the plot points without overwhelming viewers or leaving any loose threads.
While the movie may move along at an entertaining enough pace, unfortunately there’s so much going on story wise that not all of the film’s stars get enough screen time to shine. “Fresh Off the Boat’s” Randall Park and “Saturday Night Live’s” Vanessa Bayer get saddled with an underdeveloped subplot that doesn’t really go anywhere and could have easily been cut, while “Childrens Hospital’s” Rob Corddry only seems to pop up in the film to remind audiences that he’s there. It even takes a while for the usual scene-stealing Kate McKinnon (“Saturday Night Live”) to make an impact on viewers, though her uptight HR character Mary eventually finds her stride once she lets loose a little and leaves the office.
At least the film’s three leading actors deliver memorable performances, particularly Miller who—no matter how crazy his character gets—truly is the boss everyone would love to have who always has his employees’ best interests at heart. Aniston does a great job as well as the ruthless Carol, even going so far as to telling a young girl who steals her Cinnabon during one scene to F-off. The role is a complete 180 from Rachel Green on “Friends” and viewers can tell Aniston’s having a blast with it. On the flip side of the coin, it’s also great to see Bateman not playing a jerk for once on the big screen, although he’s always so good at it.
By the time the film ends (be sure to sit through the credits for some outtakes), audiences will likely wish that they could work at Zenotek, too. Sure, “Office Christmas Party” isn’t the best party-spirals-out-of-control movie Hollywood has ever made, but it’s still a lot of fun and one festive soirée you won’t want to miss.