Office Christmas Party (Paramount, R)

I’d probably have more fun at a real office Christmas celebration than I would watching this again.

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Funny enough, while Office Christmas Party attempts to make fun of what’s considered a normal workplace obligation, I’d probably have more fun at a real office Christmas celebration than I would watching this again. Sometimes simple, mundane concepts work for small comedies. This one could have, especially with a cast consisting of typically funny actors, including T.J. Miller as the tech company Zenotech’s Chicago branch manager and Jason Bateman as his second in command. Jillian Bell and Rob Corddry, solid comedians and character actors, also make welcome appearances. There’s just nothing new or fun about the script. It seems if you leave out the improvisation and spontaneity of looser comedic storylines and instead follow a comedic formula to the T, you’re likely to get nothing in the end even with talented, funny people around you.

The plot sounds like a stretched out Saturday Night Live sketch that needed a quick and convenient plot to make it into the theater. Each new development in the story is completely expected and easy. None of the classic misdirection or glimpses of absurdity that make this kind of comedy work. No, we see only the failing of a branch full of eccentric side characters—Miller’s underdog of a branch manager and the likeable straight man that has his back (Bateman). That likable partner is also holding feelings for the cool chick programmer played by Olivia Munn (who, for those wondering, does an acceptable job after her frowned-upon appearance in X-Men: Apocalypse).

Basically, the experience of watching this is one of sitting back and letting all of your assumptions turn out to be right. I won’t lie and say there weren’t a couple of moments that made me laugh. Sometimes a character’s line or delivery is strong enough that it makes a few of the movies quick throwaway goofs really land, which is sad because the big comedic set-pieces are almost exclusively juvenile or simply unsuccessful. It’s hard to judge because, of course, people in the theater will be laughing and you can’t really argue against a genuine positive response even to a joke that seems undeniably stupid and lame.

But I think even if a movie’s silliness and talking bits don’t make you laugh, the story should at least be amusing. That’s sort of the problem with making a movie about an office Christmas party that goes off the deep end: You’re putting all of your funny potential in one location and period of time in the movie. I assume rigorous rewrites and studio meddling drained the script of any inherent situational humor in the storyline. As for the freedom of the actors, it also appears very little was allowed. Knowing the potential in this cast and comparing it to the bland, stunted, and lazy dialogue that ends up in the finished product leads me to believe there wasn’t faith put into any facet of this movie.

I wouldn’t dismiss this based on the easy premise alone, but I can easily say it’s nothing compared to the other great party movies of recent times. | Nic Champion

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