- SAY, WHAT'S IN THIS DRINK?: Kate McKinnon (from left), Jason Bateman, T.J. Miller and Olivia Munn try to save their imperilled company with a lavish corporate bash that, predictably, derails into debauchery.
Why anyone would think "Office Christmas Party" needed to be written, let alone made, will remain one of the holidays' enduring mysteries. Perhaps a studio producer saw "Horrible Bosses" and the teen party epic "Project X" back-to-back and decided they deserved a mashup. Or someone accidentally unwrapped a spare Jason Bateman and decided to whip up yet another fungible straight-man role for him, stat.
Either way, what we have here is two hours of attempted mayhem that really makes you wait before anything funny happens. (The phrase that comes to mind is "slower than Christmas.") Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck ("Blades of Glory") devote the first hour to sketching a downtown Chicago tech office full of drones and dweebs who start out slow so they can eventually find their freak flags and fly 'em proudly. The rub, though, is that to have boring characters who later get nuts — and the office rager, it does have its moments — we have to slog through a lot of chaff on the way there.
Bateman, the head of technology at ZenoTek, manages to get his divorce finalized right before Christmas, always good to get you into the holiday drinking spirit. His boss and son of the company's founder is played by T.J. Miller (Erlich Bachman in "Silicon Valley") as an alternate-dimension Will Ferrell who was raised by a library. He's determined to throw at least a perfunctory Christmas party — until his sister and the company's CEO, a sharky Jennifer Aniston, tells him she's planning to close his underperforming branch office. His one chance is to land a big account, so Miller decides to rev things up to impress the potential client, Courtney B. Vance. You also get Olivia Munn as a tech wiz and generally delightful person to have on screen at any time, and Kate McKinnon as the HR wet blanket who eventually cracks out of her shell, as you knew anyone played by Kate McKinnon must.
Instead, a party destined for cheese logs and Bing Crosby on Spotify gets cranked up to a 12. Beer can pyramids. Live reindeer. Office schlub Sam Richardson moonlighting as a DJ with a penchant for '90s jams. A Chicago Bull shows up, and good ol' cocaine makes a cameo. As everything unravels, word about the party gets out to the city at large, and the building is flooded with revelers/looters/more people dressed in Nativity outfits. In hindsight, it's a surprise the producers didn't spring for the obligatory police helicopter, but a couple of ambulances do get a workout.
This is, of course, what needs to happen in a dopey comedy named for literally the most awkward social gathering on the calendar. Offices and Christmases and Parties are three things that definitely exist alone; any two may even be paired without too much fuss. But put all three together, and you've got an oxymoronic event in which people who care about one another only situationally — and who can get each other fired for making bad decisions — are expected to cut loose and/or maybe express genuine feelings. "Office Christmas Party" pulls up shy of fully roasting the underlying absurdity of this ritual, deciding that the party should be an occasion for people to decide they actually care for one another. It's a slow-starter that winds up two shades too sap-sticky to really land its punch.