Office Christmas Party is a decent studio comedy, but its entertaining parts do not add up to a cohesive whole.
Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller) is the manager of the struggling Chicago-based branch for the technology company Zenotek. With his office failing to meet the financial goals established by Zenotek CEO (and Clay's sister) Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston), Carol threatens to shut the branch down, which would put several people out of work. Always committed to his employees, Clay plans a way to save the company with his chief technical officer Josh Parker (Jason Bateman) and lead engineer Tracey Hughes (Olivia Munn): land a massive $14 million contract with Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) of Data City. Doubting it will work, Carol agrees to save everyone's job if Clay can close the deal.
Unfortunately for Zenotek, Walter rejects the pitch from Clay, Josh, and Tracey. In one final act of desperation, Clay comes up with an even wilder idea. Against Carol's orders, he invites Walter to the office's annual Christmas party (or, if you will, non-denominational holiday mixer) with the intention of showing Davis a great time so he buys into Zenotek's culture and wants to work with them. It's up to Clay to pull out all the stops without letting his hard-partying nature get in the way of conducting business - which would sink the branch.
Office Christmas Party is the latest R-rated comedy based on a story by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who are most famous for penning The Hangover (and wrote/directed this summer's Bad Moms). This is the duo's attempt of bringing their brand of humor into the realm of the workplace, delivering all the wacky shenanigans moviegoers have come to expect from their partnership. For the most part, the film is successful in its goals. Office Christmas Party is a decent studio comedy, but its entertaining parts do not add up to a cohesive whole.
The main selling point of the movie is the all-star roster that features many big names including Miller, Bateman, Aniston, Munn, and Kate McKinnon (among others), and fans of the cast probably won't be let down. Though none of the roles here are particularly deep, each actor proves to be a good fit for their respective characters. Miller is the heart and soul of the picture, injecting Clay with his natural unbridled enthusiasm and sensibilities. Though his actions may be a bit unorthodox as the boss, it's evident that Clay cares deeply about his employees and has nothing but the best intentions. Office Christmas Party is very much an ensemble piece, but Clay is essentially the main character and Miller carries the movie on his shoulders to make it work. Whatever flaws the final product may have, Miller is a lovable, infectious presence that's hard not to like.
That's not to say the other cast members don't give it their all as well. Bateman is a nice foil for Miller's antics, serving as Office Christmas Party's straight man trying to keep the whole thing in check. McKinnon is also a standout as Mary, Zenotek's HR head who is a stickler for the rules and company policy. The character as written may venture off into cliché territory from time to time, but McKinnon is still a fun inclusion that delivers some laughs throughout the film. Additionally, Da'Vine Joy Randolph has a humorous turn as the main security guard Carla. The whole cast has good chemistry, playing off each other in a nonchalant manner. It's easy to see that this group of people has worked together for a number of years, selling viewers on numerous relationships that were obviously formed off-screen.
While the cast is up for the task of making Office Christmas Party breezy entertainment, the same cannot be said for the screenplay, which is credited to Justin Malen, Laura Solon, and Dan Mazer from a story by Lucas, Moore, and Timothy Dawling. The script offers the barest bones of a plot that's very thin on narrative and characterization. It could be a case of there being too many cooks in the kitchen, as the film is more or less a collection of amusing parts that can't truly come together. The creative team tries to balance several subplots featuring the various members of the office, but certain ones feel like filler to stretch Office Christmas Party to a feature length. The second act in particular drags as the film morphs into montages of insanity and meanders along until things pick back up towards the end. It's also somewhat reliant on conveniences that don't come across as natural and are more for the sake of moving things forward. Office Christmas Party scores points for attempting to have a heart and justification for the party, but it's not executed in the best way.
As stated above, there isn't a whole lot to the characters, and each one has a trait emphasized to round out the comedic ensemble. Again, the cast does their best to elevate the material, but in some cases there isn't much to work with. Aniston's Carol is just mean-spirited, and her sibling rivalry with Clay is standard fare that doesn't bring anything fresh to the table. Munn plays the typical "smart" engineer who can confuse others with her lingo and is little more than a love interest for Bateman, which will be disappointing for some. It's nice to see a diverse and well-rounded cast, but it might have been better if there was more to the individuals they were playing than just being an archetype. The arcs the film tries to present are forced and there for the sentimental factor, rather than being completely earned.
Office Christmas Party is an atypical holiday movie that is very much a mixed bag. How one enjoys it will most likely depend on their fondness for the people involved. Fans of Bateman, Miller, McKinnon, and the rest of the crew will probably find something to like, and in that respect, moviegoers looking for festive R-rated laughs during this time of the year might be inclined to check it out in theaters. The script shortcomings will prevent Office Christmas Party from joining the ranks of the great all-time Christmas comedies, but it's still serviceable thanks to the efforts of the cast.