“Office Christmas Party,” like many actual office Christmas parties, is poorly organized, runs too long, and isn’t as entertaining as it thinks it is. You can’t say there weren’t red flags, though. That generic title — clearly a placeholder that they neglected to replace with something better — is a good starting point. Consider also that SIX writers are credited, three for the story and three for the screenplay. I bet each of them thought one of the other five was responsible for the title.
The plot (the one it took three guys to come up with) is that the Chicago branch of a big tech company will be shuttered by the ball-breaking C.E.O. (Jennifer Aniston) unless they land a particular account TODAY, and the only way to land the account is to invite the client (Courtney B. Vance) to the company holiday party (which coincidentally is TONIGHT) and hope he’s impressed enough by their revelry to trust them with his multi-millionaire-dollar contract.
Co-directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck (“The Switch,” “Blades of Glory”) are in familiar territory, with Jason Bateman as the sardonic, newly divorced manager, Josh, and T.J. Miller (reprising his “Silicon Valley” character) as Clay, the irresponsible boss (and the C.E.O.’s brother; they inherited their father’s company). Olivia Munn plays a programmer who serves two purposes: being Josh’s potential new love interest, and executing the impossible technological trick that saves the company in the film’s prolonged, unfunny, credulity-straining climax.
Adorning this dumb core premise are a thousand details, many of them funny, that speak to the scattershot, free-associating nature of the committee-produced script. One employee (Vanessa Bayer), a single mom, hooks up with a co-worker (Randall Park) who, it turns out, has a “mommy” fetish. A dork (Karan Soni), having bragged to his cubicle-mates about his supermodel girlfriend, hires an escort to pretend to be her. Someone accidentally ingests cocaine. These tropes, which have no bearing on the main story, are more like comedy sketches. They’re right at home among the several ancillary characters who seem like “SNL” refugees: the H.R. person (Kate McKinnon) who’s constantly fretting about workplace violations; the escort’s pimp, Trina (Jillian Bell), who’s chatty and folsky; the over-eager first-time Uber driver (Fortune Feimster).
The sharp cast and the film’s willingness (desperation?) to try everything means that, just by the law of averages, some of the laughs are going to land. The H.R. rep, who turns out to be a major character, sticks out like a sore thumb for being more cartoony than the rest of the main cast, but darned if she isn’t hilarious, another feverishly odd creation by Kate McKinnon. Miller, Bateman, Aniston, and Munn have their moments, as does nearly everyone else. It’s all just so sloppy and undisciplined, like they couldn’t be bothered to polish the rough materials they started with. With better focus and tighter editing, this wouldn’t have felt so much like unpaid overtime.
C+ (1 hr., 45 min.; )