Movie Review: “Office Christmas Party”

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Not to be a prude or anything, but what the hell has Hollywood done to Christmas comedies?

Sure, “Bad Santa” was jarring and against the grain — a little dash of sweet, a whole bottle of dirty dysfunction. “The Night Before” took things to nasty night before Christmas extreme.

But this year? “Bad Santa 2,” the upcoming “Why Him?” and now “Office Christmas Party” make one long for the sentimental slop of “Christmas with the Cranks.”

It’s not an awful idea, building a hard-R rated “Hangover” clone out of that no-longer-P.C. corporate tradition — the annual bacchanal-blowout in the place where you work.

“Office Christmas Party” throws Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston back together for a farce with him as the mild-mannered company man and her as an assassin in stilettos, out to lay much of a Chicago tech firm off right around the holidays.

That’s another Chicago holiday tradition, BTW. Actually, a nationwide one in corporate America — holiday layoffs.

But this pull-out-all-the-stops one-last-desperate party picture tries WAY too hard, which works against Bateman’s slow-burn strengths. It leans on the gorgeous Olivia Munn, who is no Olivia Wilde when it comes to comedy.

And it all It hangs on the comic stylings of big-oaf T.J. Miller, who is much better in small doses (“Deadpool,””Silicon Valley”). He plays Clay Vanstone, the childish, drunken heir of Zenotech, running his daddy’s company into the ground while his nasty CEO sister (Aniston) would like to put him out of business.

He’s more concerned with explaining the allure of the “Fast and Furious” movies to his second in command, “play it safe” Josh (Bateman).

“They only get MORE ‘Fast. And MORE ‘Furious!'”

Josh is newly divorced, crushing on his tech-genius underling (Munn), indulgent of the rest of the firm, where everybody’s got their “thing.”

Jeremy (Rob Corddry, at his unfunniest) is the angriest customer service chief you ever met. Joel (Sam Richardson) harbors secret party DJ fantasies. Kate McKinnon is the anal retentive HR chief who posts “H.R. is WATCHING YOU” posters everywhere, and renames the party a “Non-denominational holiday mixer,” to be safe, ordering any office “Hook-ups” must take place in the parking lot, off company property.

And her fellow “SNL” star Vanessa Bayer is a lonely single mom secretary who keeps boss out of trouble even as she’s quick with the threats to her feckless ex.

“I will ‘Gone Girl’ you SO HARD!”

Enter Carol (Aniston), wreaking snowy havoc, canceling the party and killing all the joy. Josh and Clay have a “Hail Mary” in mind. If they can land this one tech buyer (they build servers), they could save everybody’s jobs. And when he (Courtney B. Vance) turns out to value a warm, fun corporate “culture,” they invite him to the party hellbent on winning him over by partying so hard that everybody there forgets their impending doom.

It takes a good — OK, not good at all — thirty minutes for the movie to really find its rude and raunchy comfort zone. The party has to be invaded by a hooker. Cocaine has to blow into the night air, eggnog has to be dispensed from — well, wait until you see it.

And I never thought I would ever type this line into a movie review. You have never seen Courtney B. Vance like this.

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“Office Christmas Party” turns giddy, for just a few minutes. The giddy kicks in once or twice before the finale, maybe when everybody has to pile into Kate McKinnon’s mini van for a car chase. Is this the right vehicle for a snowy sprint through downtown Chitown?

“It’s a Kia, what GOD would drive!”

Jillian Bell from “The Night Before” sparks a little as a pimp who emphasizes a pleasant customer service experience — in addition to the usual threats. Da’Vine Joy Randolph is the plump take-no-prisoners security guard who would have been funnier in a better picture.

And Randall Park of “The Interview” takes a shot at playing an Asian accountant with mommy issues.

That’s a whole lot of characters, many of them interpreted by usually hilarious people, in a cluttered, ham-fisted farce that pulls its punches so often that it never pops, a meandering mess that never gets up to the speed one needs to achieve “romp.”

1half-star

MPAA Rating:R for crude sexual content and language throughout, drug use and graphic nudity

Cast: Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Olivia Munn, Kate McKinnon, T.J. Miller, Courtney B. Vance, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Rob Corddry, Randall Park

Credits:Directed by Josh Gordon, Will Speck , script by Justin Malin, Larau Solon, Dan Mazer. A Paramount release.

Running time: 1:45

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