[Screen It]


(2016) (Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston) (R)

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Comedy: To impress a potential client, a technology firm throws a holiday party that quickly gets out of control.
It's the holiday season, and Clay Vanstone (T.J. MILLER) has inherited the Chicago branch office of his recently deceased father's technology company. The office is full of sad-sacks, ranging from newly divorced Josh (JASON BATEMAN) and lonely tech-head Tracey (OLIVIA MUNN) to HR pencil-pusher Mary (KATE McKINNON) and frazzled office manager and single mom Allison (VANESSA BAYER).

Clay's bitter, Type A sister, Carol (JENNIFER ANISTON), is interim CEO of the entire corporation and is looking to make that interim status permanent. This means ever since being handed the reins, she has been closing offices, cutting costs, and resetting production goals. Her next target is the Chicago branch if Clay doesn't double the office's sales figures by the end of the year. Clay's only hope is to woo a big account headed by the straight-laced Walter Davis (COURTNEY B. VANCE).

After meeting Walter, Clay, Josh, and Tracey deduce that the man just craves some fun and to work with a firm that has a great corporate culture. Against Carol's wishes, they decide to throw the office party to end all office parties. It quickly gets out of hand thanks to an engineer Nate (KARAN SONI), who hires a hooker Savannah (ABBEY LEE) to be his date, then runs afoul of her pimp, Trina (JILLIAN BELL); new-hire Fred, who crushes on Allison but hides a secret fetish; and Jeremy (ROB CORDDRY), who just wants to have a raucous good time before the company lays him off.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
I'll say one thing for "Office Christmas Party," the new comedy starring Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, and T.J. Miller. It has some of the most dedicated extras I've ever seen in a movie. For the most part, you really don't notice extras in a flick. You're not supposed to. The camera almost always stays on the stars and supporting cast at all times. Extras are just there to fill out restaurant scenes, crowd sequences, and so forth.

But the extras in "Office Christmas Party" are given a boatload of stuff to do. Like run around office corridors naked, photocopy their breasts and buns in Xerox machines, throw equipment and computer gear out windows, swill booze from kegs and bottles, fornicate on desks and in bathroom stalls, and so forth. It must have been a heck of a raucous set. You wonder what was on-the-spot direction and what just co-directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck turning on the cameras and saying, "Just go!"

But here's the problem. It's the extras who are doing most of the truly naughty, outrageous, out-there stuff in this film. It's NOT the main and supporting cast. Some fairly big-name actors and performers signed on for this film. In addition to Bateman, Aniston, and Miller, the film also boasts Kate McKinnon and Vanessa Bayer of "Saturday Night Live," Rob Corddry of the "Hot Tub Time Machine" flicks, Randall Park of "Fresh Off the Boat," and so forth. But they're all cast in these unremarkable parts where, even if they do eventually cut loose, there's no joy or naughty thrill to it.

In "The Hangover," it was great fun to see Ed Helms and Bradley Cooper get their hands dirty and get put through the ringer. In "Bachelor Party," it was fun to see the young Tom Hanks try to stay true to his fiancée while his friends were partying with hookers, cross dressers, belly dancers, and a coke-snorting donkey. Those cast members signed on for the debauchery, and they were all in. In the "Bad Santa" movies, Billy Bob Thornton, Tony Cox, and the other principals are the ones soiling and debasing themselves.

By contrast, in "Office Christmas Party," all of the really raunchy hijinks happen around Bateman, Aniston, and Co. Yeah, T.J. Miller snorts a bit of cocaine at one point. And Bateman fellates an ice sculpture dispensing egg nog. But none of them set fire to things, no one has intercourse, nary a principal cuts loose.

As a result, the film feels hesitant and a bit tame for a flick of this nature. Even when a couple of them do engage in something weird -- such as Bayer and Park almost having a sexual tryst in the office's day-care room, with Park calling Bayer's character mommy and asking her to inspect his diaper -- the performers seem uncomfortable with the material. All concerned only go so far, and their central dilemmas are rather lame.

Bateman and Olivia Munn play boss and employee who are attracted to each other, but have never acted on it. Will they or won't they? Yawn. Who cares? The two have NO chemistry. Miller and Aniston are siblings who have inherited the family business from their recently deceased father. The two wrestle and pull each other's hair. Ooooh! Edgy! And, yeah, Aniston goes from ice queen corporate hatchet woman for 90 minutes of screen time to good-hearted, benevolent chief executive in the span of about, oh, 30 seconds of screen time! And without the help of three Dickensian spirits!

On the plus side, there are some funny bits involving Courtney B. Vance -- a career dramatic actor -- cutting loose as a straight-laced executive, whose business Miller and Aniston are trying to woo, getting a face full of cocaine and turning into a party animal. Unfortunately, his night ends way too soon, and the film suffers mightily from his exit. There is also a funny bit involving a profane cab driver played by comedian Fortune Feimster, who bags on Aniston's character for having the old-timey name of Carol. And there ARE some funny bits involving extras in this film, such as the guy who plays Jesus riding through the office in slo-mo on a reindeer and another random guy who puts his genitals into a 3-D printer.

But it's a sad commentary when I will remember those folks over the film's stars. There are some laughs here, but not nearly enough to make this worth paying to see in the cinemas. I rate it no higher than a 4 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed December 6, 2016 / Posted December 9, 2016

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