I’ve heard that musicians record Christmas albums because they never stop selling. For one month out of every year, consumers are so enticed by the holidays, they will buy anything to constantly remind them of the time of year. I imagine “Office Christmas Party” was conceived under a similar philosophy: “let’s make one of those party movies—you know, the ones where people get drunk, dance in slow motion and fall over—but make it a Christmas party. The TBS royalties will roll in every December!”
In Dickensian fashion, the film begins in a cold, metal office building, where Christmas exists only in store-bought pastries and non-denominational sweaters (which include Boxing Day). Our Scrooge comes in the form of Jennifer Aniston, the CEO of Zenotek, who informs her Chicago branch that not only will there be no Christmas party, but there will be significant layoffs. That is, unless somebody can entice Courtney B. Vance, a fat cat of some repute, to partner with Zenotek. Enter our unlikely hero, T.J. Miller, the misfit brother of Aniston and manager of the Chicago branch—a job for which he is wholly unqualified, but obtained through nepotism. Miller figures that the only way Vance can be lured to their company is if they throw the greatest Christmas party of all time, thereby impressing Vance with their camaraderie.
This isn’t so much a party as it is a Viking celebration—the kind you might see follow the pillaging of some poor village. There are large fires, drunken orgies, uninhibited farting, people swinging from ropes and, the most outrageous of them all, karaoke, which seems to find its way into every modern comedy. Party comedies seem to be on the same trajectory as the blockbuster, as each new film defines success on being more excessive than the last, which eventually results in not comedy, but carnage and chaos. If I took my television and threw it out a second-story window, does that make me a comedian? Think about the scene from “Animal House” where Belushi smashes that guy’s guitar—it’s funny not because a guitar is smashed, but because of Belushi’s face as he ponders whether or not he should destroy it, his ultimate decision being, “yes, this is something that must be done,” and then his incredibly genuine delivery of “sorry.” In fewer words, it’s the character, not the action.
At one point in the film, some half-dressed party-goers are putting their apparently not-so-private parts on the copying machine—I guess the workforce is big on Bart Simpson types. When this becomes dull, one of them remembers the new 3-D printer in the office, and things upgrade from there. Having seen a lot of movies and being somewhat familiar with your standard set-up/pay-off gag, I figured this 3-D object would come into play sometime later. When it didn’t, I realized that the introduction of the 3-D printer—as opposed to your average, everyday 2-D printer—was the entirety of the joke. As I arrived at this sad realization, my face looked much like Belushi’s before he smashed the guitar.
My only laugh arose from an altercation between Aniston and an airport employee. The man insists there are no flights available, she tells him to check again, he replies that it’s in God’s hands now, and she responds with a loud and defiant, “oh, her?”
Reviewing comedies is hard, because comedy is a lot like magic, in that to explain it is to destroy it. It either works or it doesn’t. For myself, “Office Christmas Party” does not work.
1 out of 5 stars