Talk about holiday buzzkill. Office Christmas Party sounded like it would be just the right raunchy timewaster the season needed, an Animal House rager without a thought in its shitfaced noggin. Instead, this pooped party brings you down from all the jokes that don’t land and the flop sweat pouring off good actors whose forced cheer is exhausting.
T.J. Miller – so good on Silicon Valley, so lost here – plays Clay, the doofus who’s been running the Chicago branch of his family’s tech company into the ground. His Grinchy-as-hell sister, Carol (Jennifer Aniston), intends to shut the place down after Christmas if her brother can’t come up with a money-making fix. The chief technical officer Josh (Jason Bateman) puts his head together with whipsmart co-worker Tracey (the always and forever watchable Olivia Munn) to devise a plan to revolutionize the Internet. Are you feeling the weight of the plot here? The setup – it took six writers to construct it – weighs a ton, especially since o-directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck (Blades of Glory) put the “slow” into the term “slow burn.”
Clay, said to have “the mind of a drunk baby,” thinks the solution to financial ruin is to throw a huge Christmas party. Great idea; that will surely make the plot go away. But it doesn’t, even when someone loads a snow machine with cocaine, even when a stick-ass potential client (Courtney B. Vance) snorts a nose full of blow and swings from the rafters, even when a dude dressed as Jesus rides through the party on a horse, even when sharp comic minds like Kate McKinnon, Vanesa Bayer, Rob Corddry and Randall Park work tirelessy to build laughs in a vacuum. We long for a genuinely demented farce and get only desperation.
On the periphery, however, there are two killer performances: Fortune Feimster as a newbie Uber driver with a mouth on her, and Jillian Bell as a pimp whose smile can turn from merry to menacing on a dime. What do their characters have to do with the plot? Nothing, which is maybe why they score so many laughs and hint at the wild thing that Office Christmas Party could have been if it didn’t take itself so damn seriously. Bummer.