Every Christmas, Hollywood inundates us with holiday-themed movies, hoping that our bonhomie will extend all the way to the box office. Sometimes this works a treat – think Elf – and other times they have all the delight and ingenuity of opening a pair of socks on Christmas morning, like Bad Santa 2.
Office Christmas Party, which has the most literal name for a comedy since The Hangover, to which it owes quite a debt – sits squarely in the Christmas cracker genre. But fortunately there’s enough on offer to keep most viewers entertained, just as long as you don’t mind those comedies where they go for a joke every twenty seconds, ranging from witty wordplay to the gratuitously scatological.
Personally, I don’t – as long as enough of the humour is funny. Here, even the more unsuccessful gags – like the very literal gagging when Jason Bateman fellates an ice sculpture – are quickly over, followed by something better. By my count, around half of the jokes landed, and given the sheer quantity of them, that was enough for me.
It also has an enormous cast of likeable actors doing what they usually do, which very much lacks ingenuity but delivers solid, endearing results. Honestly, it was like a meeting of Typecast Anonymous.
Jason Bateman plays Downtrodden But Funnily Snarky And Really Likeable Guy Who Just Got His Heart Broken in what must be at least the tenth reincarnation of his Arrested Development Character. Jennifer Aniston plays a Horrible Boss, again. TJ Miller from Silicon Valley plays Wacky Man Child With A Hidden Emotional Side, while Rob Corddry plays Buttoned Down Bald Guy With A Subsequently Unlocked Wild Side.
Best of all, Kate McKinnon, this year’s comedy MVP, plays a character who is notionally the HR manager but, more importantly, is another McKinnon oddball from the same stable as Ghostbusters’ Jillian Holtzmann. In the final third, she’s in every single scene, and steals every single one – unlike poor Olivia Munn, the female lead who is there more to be attained and to serve as the moral conscience than to deliver consistent laughs. But at least her Pretty But Surprisingly Attainable Because Very Geeky Love Interest role is consistent with her usual tech industry sweetheart persona.
They’re all great actors, though, so it’s fun watching them do what they do. The quality of their banter is also above average, which helps. How all their characters fit together isn’t important – in fact, it’s not even worth explaining. Nor is the extremely flimsy retread of a plot, in which the heroes have to throw the Best Party Ever in order to Save The Company and/or Christmas. The result is as inevitable as Christmas itself.
Besides the actors on offer, the film’s other strong suit is the entirely implausible, but frequently entertaining, excess of the party, which is loaded with sights gags of increasing scale as the night gets later and more booze goes down. Every time the camera travels through the enormous office space, something funny’s happening in the background, or off to the side.
I particularly enjoyed the morning-after scene, which reminded me of The Hangover’s famous pan around that utterly destroyed Vegas hotel room, with each bit of the space a separate, intriguing moment of devastation. Each time, the writers have thought about how to raise the comedic stakes. Even the inevitable scene of people photocopying themselves naked has an ingenious variation.
And even though the plot isn’t the slightest bit inventive, and its ultimate resolution is more predictable than a Harlem Globetrotters game, there were enough funny people doing funny things to make this film worth a trip to the cinema. It’s not quite a good film, unfortunately, but it is the silly season, after all, and this film certainly delivers the silly.