It’s Christmas time and that means blowing the dust off those old Christmas movies, and if you’re a stickler like me then you’ll only ever watch them in December. As we pillage and plunder the regular selection of titles, it becomes obvious that for the most part we’re left with a cache of sugary feel-good movies that concentrate on family values, good will towards others, and jolly old Saint Nick. Of course, the traditional movies are invaluable and it wouldn’t be Christmas without them, however the unconventional ones are few and far between. Sure, we could list off a whole bunch of alternative titles, but for every five Polar Express-like titles there’s only one Bad Santa or The Night Before.
This year’s honorary inductee is Office Christmas Party, an adult comedy that pits the archetypal “house-party” formula against a Yuletide backdrop, with mixed results. Jason Bateman and T.J. Miller lead an ensemble cast in an office-life version of Animal House. They play two CO’s of a struggling company who throw the ultimate office party – against the wishes of their CEO (Jennifer Aniston) – in order to land a lucrative partnership that would bring job security to their employees. With no time to spare, they dress the office up to the nines and attempt to host a night to end all nights.
The actual office Christmas party portions of the film work brilliantly, even with a heavy reliance on the tropes of the genre. Hundreds of people squished together flay in slow motion, while debauchery hits overdrive as alcohol spills, clothes get strewn and the bass beat drops. The entire party set-up is executed perfectly as the viewer’s attention is ricocheted throughout the building, casting a voyeuristic eye on everyone and everything. And what sets this film above some of the countless other party movies is the unexciting workplace environment. The dull and depressive assortment of white-collared characters gives the film a lot of opportunity to throw caution to the wind – and when they do, it can be hilarious.
Jason Bateman has carved a niche for himself over the past decade and lowbrow comedy is a genre that he does well. His presence on screen is likeable and what he beings to a story is a charm that is as endearing as it is sincere. He can lift the appeal of almost any droll film, and Office Christmas Party relies on his dependable personality. T.J. Miller helps keep the frivolity flying with his impudent childish humour and outlandish antics. His similarity to Ryan Reynolds now – seemingly – plays favourably with audiences and his mannerisms are strangely beguiling. Their support includes Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, Olivia Munn, Jillian Bell and Rob Corddry, amongst others, who all lend their own quirks.
And then, suddenly, the film wanes. It becomes clear that the whole party set-up could only maintain its stamina for so long. In order to pad the film’s unnecessary 103-minute running time, the narrative veers dramatically into a disjointed and shonky kidnap subplot that has the lead characters engaged in a high-speed pursuit through the city with criminals. It’s an ill-conceived development, one that feels unfortunately tacked on. The result is an adequate first act, a solid second, and a frustratingly lazy and inept third act.
Had Office Christmas Party stuck to the premise of its title and trimmed 20 minutes from its duration, the result could have been a confidently outrageous and welcome addition to the canon of adult-oriented Christmas movies. Alas, the film occasionally drops the ball, and with that finale, drops its potentially enthusiastic rating down a few notches. Lots of fun to be had… and then lost.
THE REEL SCORE: 6/10