Friday, December 23, 2016

Turn Down For What?

Year: 2016
Director: Josh Gordon & Will Speck
Cast: Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller 
Run Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

A great cast doesn’t always equal a good movie. If it did, Valentine’s Day would have swept the Oscars. But damn, Office Christmas Party has a great cast. Jason Bateman is the perfect asshole straight man, T. J. Miller is a standout member of the preternaturally superb Silicon Valley ensemble, Jennifer Aniston is so charming she survived The Bounty Hunter and We’re the Millers, Kate McKinnon has been the shining light of comedy this year, Jillian Bell has been hilarious I everything I’ve ever seen her in, Vanessa Bayer has swiftly proven herself as one of the strongest members of the new SNL cast, and Randall Park has been my underrated idol for forever.

Office Christmas Party might be the exception to that rule. It’s literally the most basic, featureless R-rated comedy ever created (c’mon, it might as well be called Office Party Script Title TBD), but it survives on the strength of its excellent ensemble just being themselves and working their established personalities to the hilt.

Thanks again, Mr. Park.

So, here’s the plot, as if this movie needed one. And it’s quite needlessly complicated, at that. Clay Vanstone (T. J. Miller) is the head of the Chicago branch of Zenotech, a tech company that does yadda yadda synergy. His jealous sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston) has become interim CEO after their dad died and is threating to close the branch unless they can close a major deal with Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance). She’s slashed their budget and forbids them from wasting money by having their annual Christmas party. But Davis wants them to prove their company culture is vibrant and exciting, so Clay and his freshly divorced right-hand man Josh (Jason Bateman) plan a party behind Carol’s back to woo him.

Things get out of hand as the party grows out of control and various office personalities clash, including the straight-out-of-the-90’s hacker tech queen Tracey (Olivia Munn) – who Josh has the hots for – unlucky-in-love secretary Allison (Vanessa Bayer), and buttoned-up HR weirdo Mary (Kate McKinnon).

Thanks again, Ms. McKinnon.

It’s not fun to watch other people party. It’s just not. That’s why I turn off New Year’s Rockin’ Eve after the ball drops. Watching Fergie and anonymous party people dance around is excruciatingly dull. Office Christmas Party attempts to do something a little different, pulling comedy from the image of more normal, office-esque people doing the same things, but come the f*ck on. Jennifer Aniston is one of the leads. Having one or two frumpy extras with Junie B. Jones bangs doesn’t count as “realism.”

Anyway, I digress. Watching people debauch is boring, which is presumably why they injected so much plot into the godforsaken thing. Unfortunately they overfilled the thin little wisp of a movie and that plot oozes through every crack, threatening to drown the whole thing in sloppy sentimentality. Frankly, it’s idiotic, and the plot moments are played too earnest for them to even pretend they were being intentionally absurd when the going gets hyperbolic. 

Bateman and Munn’s improbable romance is bad enough (especially during a period of anti-drama that requires everyone to act like squealing infants), but when the theme of taking risks and making innovations blossoms into Star Trek technobabble about making the Internet out of electricity or something, it goes too far. If they played it like an homage to 80’s films that treated computers like they were omnipotent sorcerers, it might be amusing, but it’s just plain stupid, as if the business model it’s shackled to (“We’ll give people free Internet and become billionaires somehow! Science!”).

Damn, is that a difficult plot to sift through. It’s a sticky sweet mess that gums up everything it touches. It’s a whirl of inscrutable motivations and trite yet labored setups that are so howlingly forced they distract from the comedy at hand. And yet… that comedy’s still pretty good. 

Thanks again, improv.

Nobody is turning in bad work in this film, all the way down to the smallest bit parts (an Uber driver played by Fortune Feimster is downright hilarious. Even though Kate McKinnon is only paying a one-note sketch character, she pulls from her seemingly endless reserves of offbeat and captivating line readings, Jennifer Aniston proves that she can hold her own against more out-there comedians, and Jillian Bell especially creates a wonderfully unpredictable vibe with her standout performance.

This is a fun cast, and it’s a delight just to watch them mess around with each other. Luckily, that is one thing this movie has to offer in spades. As much as it doesn’t resemble an actual feature film in any way, it actually does resemble an office party. The plot mills about, letting you hang out and celebrate the holidays with some friends, and that’s really not the worst thing a movie can offer.

TL;DR: Office Christmas Party is a passable R-rated comedy thanks to its cast and that alone.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 846

No comments:

Post a Comment