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Even a cast assembled of genuinely funny people such as Kate McKinnon and T.J. Miller isn’t enough to make this comedy a funny one.

Glen Wilson

1 out of 4 stars

Title
Office Christmas Party
Written by
too many people
Directed by
Josh Gordon and Will Speck
Starring
Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston and T.J. Miller
Genre
Comedy
Classification
18A
Country
USA
Language
English
Year
2016

There are comedies that exist solely to showcase the talent and chemistry of their leads. Think of Caddyshack, for which more than half the original script was legendarily scrapped – all the stuff about the trials and travails of the working-class golf caddy – to make room for the free-form comic interplay of stars Chevy Chase, Bill Murray, Ted Knight and Rodney Dangerfield. The setting, the plot, even the "slobs versus snobs" class tension barely matters. The film could be set in Paris. Or on the moon. A comedy like Caddyshack is little more than an excuse to trap funny people in a frame together.

Office Christmas Party is a similar construction. Here, we have assembled genuinely funny people: T.J. Miller (Silicon Valley), Jason Bateman (Arrested Development), Jennifer Aniston (Wanderlust) and Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters), rounded out by Olivia Munn as the passably funny love interest. Given how easily these people have proven funny in the past, the idea of watching them causing holiday havoc at an annual holiday party, fuelled by booze and drugs and high-concept highjinks, proves promising. It's like Caddyshack. Except it's not funny.

Office Christmas Party is a hopeless muddle. A joyless, laughless – that's right, not even one laugh – affair that proves how indulgent and (worse) boring ensemble comedies such as this become when the ensemble has next to no natural chemistry and even less of a script to riff off of.

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Again, the premise is tidy enough: Rich-kid tech-honcho Clay (Miller) feels the squeeze from his hard-ass rich-kid tech-honcho sister (Aniston) to whip his branch into shape or else face nasty holiday layoffs. Desperate to woo a big client (Courtney B. Vance, the funniest person in the picture), Clay and his team (including Bateman and Munn) plan the holiday rager to end all holiday ragers.

Cue an hour of slo-mo party sequences showcasing white-collar workers double-fisting whisky, photocopying their genitals in a 3-D printer, gyrating, jiggling and sloshing through sundry other scenes of hard-partying mayhem.

But what, one wonders, is the point of these images? Are we meant merely to admire them? To use them as some kind of Bud-Light-and-blow-loaded prayer wheel by which we can party by proxy? To jump up in our Cineplex seats and dance along to DJ Kool's mid-nineties hip-hop anthem Let Me Clear My Throat? It's a fine song, granted. But still.

As if aggrieved by their movie's pointlessness, directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck – who? – push the overlong party montage into an overstuffed third act, involving a kidnapping, a pimp prone to mood swings (Jillian Bell) and a last-ditch, save-the-company scheme that involves empowering lightbulbs to access the Internet (or something). Along the way, the cast turns in fuzzy office-copier Xeroxes of their own comedic personas: Miller, the well-meaning dope; Aniston, the anal-retentive shrew; Bateman, the aww-shucks straight man; and McKinnon, essentially supplying a version of her high-strung Hillary Clinton impression from Saturday Night Live.

It probably goes without saying that the film's take on office politics are execrable. (So much so that they approach being the only funny thing about the movie.) While it gestures to problems facing the white-collar work force, whose jobs were always superfluous, it does so in the service of finding sympathy for the rancorous executives, immature trust-fund doofs and other horrible bosses who exploded whole work forces, tanking the economy in the process.

What else to do in the face of such apocalyptically dismal prospects than guzzle spiked eggnog, nosedive into a snowdrift of opiates and photocopy our own butts? The party's the only promise, stupid as it may be.

As Dangerfield's new-money nuisance puts it in Caddyshack, in a cathartic line that dissolves the tensions between the slobs, the snobs, the hard-pressed working-class caddies and even that boogie-dancing little gopher, and kicks off its own late-game party scene, "Hey everybody! We're all gonna get laid!"

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