December can be tough on movie critics, with all those lofty works of art crammed late into awards contention. Movies about lost children, historical events, dead presidents, demanding fathers.
Things get so masterfully bleak that sometimes all you want is a halfway indecent Christmas smutcom. A palate dirtier, if you will.
Bad Santa 2 left a worse taste than moviegoers hoped, but take heart. Two more holiday movie spews are due, of which Office Christmas Party is the first and least. It's nasty as it needs to be but Why Him? (opening Dec. 22) rates higher on the gasp-laugh scale. Screening them practically back-to-back was a breath of Porta Potty air in a stuffy movie season.
Office Christmas Party is exactly what it promises, a corporate bacchanal staged by stooges in a last-ditch effort to save the family company. Kind of like the Big Game in a sports flick except the coaches are stoned. Lots of workplace fantasies are fulfilled: naked copier sessions, loosening up the HR drone, suggestive ice sculptures, frisky business as usual.
What matters are the personalities involved in these activities. Are they funny in an interesting way, or do they just remind viewers of funnier movies? Office Christmas Party struggles to break even on that count.
T.J. Miller's shaggy optimism ("Shoot for the moon, you'll land on the sun.") works for Clay Vanstone, devoted to his late father and determined to keep his business afloat. In his way are stupidity, massive debt and sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston), who wants to close Clay's Chicago branch. Aniston basically recreates her Horrible Bosses role without the sexy stuff, the best parts.
Clay and partner Josh Parker (Jason Bateman, doing his Jason Bateman thing) risk everything on an office party to impress Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance), potentially a multimillion dollar client. It's fun seeing Vance bouncing off the wall after his intensity in The People v. O.J. Simpson; one of this movie's few surprises.
Don't ask how a party complete with egg nog ice luge, Game of Thrones throne, DJ, bottomless bar and Jesus impersonator on horseback comes together in five hours. Just appreciate Kate McKinnon finding a better outlet than Ghostbusters for her special brand of crazy. Wish that directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck could find more time for Jillian Bell's hey-girl pimp.
Office Christmas Party contains enough lunacy from McKinnon, Bell and Vanessa Bayer to nearly recommend, then enough lame plot threads, Rob Corddry and Olivia Munn to reconsider. It's funnier than Fences, if that tells you anything.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.