When it comes to big, brassy studio comedies, a filmmaker can do worse than to gather the brightest, funniest stars, situate them in an odd, yet relatable situation and let ’em rip. That’s exactly what directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck do with “Office Christmas Party,” the delightfully debauched holiday desecration we need this year. Working from a screenplay credited to no less than six writers, the greatest strength of “Office Christmas Party” is its casting. If you have fabulous weirdos Kate McKinnon and T.J. Miller in lead roles, there are bound to be more than enough laughs.
McKinnon and Miller more than deliver in their roles, supported by some of comedy’s best team players in Vanessa Bayer, Rob Corddry, Randall Park, Sam Richardson and Jillian Bell. Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston bring a pleasantly acid sting to the proceedings, reprising their chemistry from the “Horrible Bosses” movies. The inimitable Courtney B. Vance also makes a memorable appearance. This cast, coupled with the time-honored bad idea of getting drunk with your co-workers, is as good a match as cookies and milk, hot cocoa and marshmallows, egg and nog. There’s not much you can do to mess it up.
Gordon and Speck do a good job nudging the proceedings along — the film never lags, briskly zipping through setup and plot, peppered with almost too many jokes, ad libs, one-liners, riffs and reaction shots to count. Miller plays the good-time boy Clay, boss of the Chicago branch of data storage company Zenotek. He was installed by his father, the company’s founder, and shares a deep rivalry with his Grinchy big sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston), who’s consistently threatening to close him down and fire everyone. The night of the office holiday mixer, Clay decides to throw the biggest, baddest bash possible in order to woo a business deal with Walter Davis (Vance). Things go from very awesome to very bad in short order.
The idea of a high-stakes Christmas party is a fine-enough backdrop to display the prowess of these performers. But if anything falters, it’s the plot, which goes deep into a tortured tech side story about a Wi-Fi innovation that could save everyone’s jobs from the claws of Carol. Somehow it feels fairly low-stakes, and makes a disheartening comment on our culture, that the best Christmas miracle we can muster is rebooting the Wi-Fi to power our smartphones and text messages. Sad but honestly true.
The real fun of “Office Christmas Party” is the utter bacchanalia in which these corporate stooges engage while believing their work world is going to end. It rapidly escalates from a rowdy dance party to a depraved orgy of sex and violence, and the pleasure is in watching these buttoned-up archetypes traffic in everything lewd and crude imaginable. You wish for far more of the flaming Christmas tree jousting and way less setting up the internet server.
The fact of the matter is that it’s nigh impossible to not enjoy McKinnon playing a repressed human resources manager finally cutting loose, or Miller as the overgrown, overenthusiastic frat boy in a Santa suit who can’t bear to lose any of his employees. “Office Christmas Party,” which delights in a grotesque carnival of the worst behavior, and still has its heart firmly in the right place.
Office Christmas Party
☆☆☆ out of 5
Cast: Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Olivia Munn, Kate McKinnon, T.J. Miller, Courtney B. Vance.
Directors: Josh Gordon and Will Speck.
Running time: 1:45.
Rated: R, for crude sexual content and language throughout, drug use and graphic nudity.