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‘Office Christmas Party’ doesn’t really work

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Inconsistent holiday comedy squanders talented ensemble

Sometimes, it seems as though Hollywood has decided that more often than not, all you have to do is throw a bunch of funny people in front of a camera and turn it on to get good comedy. There are exceptions to that notion, of course, but the improv-driven stylings of the last decade or so have resulted in films that – while certainly funny at times – feel a bit sloppy and/or disjointed.

“Office Christmas Party” has assembled a hell of a cast – Jason Bateman, T.J. Miller, Kate McKinnon, Jennifer Aniston, Olivia Munn and more – but the group proves unable to move beyond the ho-hum work from directing duo of Josh Gordon and Will Speck or the thin-yet-overstuffed, cliché-riddled screenplay to come up with consistent laughs.

Josh Parker (Jason Bateman) is the chief technical officer for the Chicago branch of a tech company called Xenotech. His boss is Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller), a fun-loving goofball who only has his position because his father founded the company. Josh and analyst Tracey (Olivia Munn) are doing their best to keep things in order, despite poor productivity and low office morale.

However, when Clay’s sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston) – who is the company CEO – decides that in order to increase profits, she needs to shut down the branch, Josh and Clay are in a bind. They have two days in which to land a major client or else everyone is going to lose their jobs.

Their meeting with the client falls short, so the decision is made to try a Hail Mary. Clay invites the client to the Xenotech office Christmas party – a party that Carol specifically forbade him to throw – in order to convince him to sign on.

Things rapidly spiral out of control.

The party rages beyond anyone’s expectations. Along the way, the employees of Xenotech begin to shed their inhibitions, leading to a number of surprises – mostly of the sex, drugs and/or rock and roll varieties. However, there’s no guarantee that Clay and Josh will be able to pull it off – and if they can’t, things could well take a bad turn.

There’s a fair amount to like about “Office Christmas Party.” There’s no denying the talent of the cast. Bateman and Miller are both nestled snugly in their respective comfort zones – Bateman as straight man with an edge; Miller as the boisterous motormouth – but those zones are comfortable for a reason. It’s nothing new, but they’re both fun. Aniston is funny when she plays angry, but there’s a bit too much of a good thing here. Munn’s deadpan is hit or miss here as well.

Kate McKinnon does some delightful character work as the head of HR, utilizing her standard kamikaze commitment to full effect. The supporting cast is full of funny folks as well – Rob Corddry has some nice stuff as a spite-fueled customer service rep, while Courtney B. Vance and Jillian Bell are both pretty fun as well.

But it just isn’t enough.

While there are funny people doing funny things throughout “Office Christmas Party,” there’s a lack of cohesion throughout. Considering the basic nature of the narrative, you wouldn’t think it likely for the story to feel disconnected, but it does – particularly in the midst of a few unnecessary subplots. Sometimes, it even comes off as a struggle to make sure everybody gets a certain amount of screen time regardless of how detrimental it might prove to the narrative arc as a whole. Additionally, the urgency of the situation always feels forced, as does the occasional lapse into sentiment.

Obviously, when you put together a group like this, there are going to be laughs. The dynamic between Miller and Bateman is solid and McKinnon steals pretty much every scene she’s in. The party sequences tend to be just the right amount of absurd. There are a couple of really solid bits here. But in the times when the comedy shoots for a mile wide and winds up an inch deep, there’s a good chance you wind up checking your phone or checking your watch or just plain checking out.

While “Office Christmas Party” is entertaining enough, it doesn’t really bring anything particularly new to the table. You’ll chuckle along, but there’s very little about it that’s memorable. Ultimately, it’s a holiday trifle that is simply forgettable.

[2 out of 5]

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