In the world of comedy, there are those that take time to establish stories and characters. And then there are the “kitchen sink” varieties that throw everything they can think of at the audience in the hope that something connects.
Kitchen-sink comedies can work, but only if the filmmakers actually put some effort into the jokes. Unfortunately, that is far from the case in Office Christmas Party.
Set in the offices of some kind of vague technology company, manager Josh Parker (Jason Bateman) and company president Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller) decide to throw an all-out Christmas party as a way to reward employees and to entice the business of Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance). If they fail to get Davis on board, company CEO Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston) has vowed to shut down their branch.
I could give more plot details, but that would suggest that any are worth thinking about. Employees played by Olivia Munn, Kate McKinnon, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Sam Richardson, and Jamie Chung are all given significant screen time, but they all exist merely to set up jokes, not to be true characters.
And that is the biggest problem with the movie. The filmmakers seem to think that punchlines are all that matter, never allowing for the fact that the best jokes work because we actually care about the people performing them. Save for some cursory background about the four main characters, who the people are in Office Christmas Party matters not in the slightest; it’s all about the craziness.
But even the debauchery of the party is a letdown. There’s all manner of drinking, drug taking, and nakedness going on, but anonymous background actors are doing the vast majority of it. More than any movie in recent memory, I felt sorry for the extras; they’re asked to do a ton of outrageous stuff but aren’t even given the dignity of being able to speak actual lines.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with the performances of the main group of actors, and, if anything, the presence of so many well-known people makes the movie somewhat tolerable. If they saw something redeemable in the script, then maybe it’s worth the effort.
That redemption never comes, though, and Office Christmas Party ends up being a piece of throwaway entertainment: something that’s mildly diverting while you’re watching it but forgotten almost as soon as you leave the theater.