PLOT A desperate tech company tries to woo a big client by throwing a blowout holiday shindig.
CAST Jason Bateman, T.J. Miller, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon
RATED R (crude sexual humor, language, drug use)
BOTTOM LINE The writers of “The Hangover” deliver their Christmas version. It’s not the greatest gift, but it’s not terrible, either.
As you might expect from its self-explanatory title and R rating, “Office Christmas Party” is built around misbehavior, mayhem and destruction. The craziness begins before the party even starts. In one of the first scenes, Jason Bateman and T.J. Miller horse around with Nerf guns in a fancy department store and bring a beautifully decorated Christmas tree crashing to the ground.
Now, we already know that Miller plays Clay, the hard-partying manager at the Chicago branch of Zenotek (a vaguely defined “internet” firm). But isn’t Bateman, as Josh, supposed to be the uptight, risk-averse chief technical officer? Well, never mind. “Office Christmas Party” knows that when you don’t have much of a story but your cast is top-notch, you might as well let them get to it.
That loosey-goosey, oh-to-hell-with-it approach is the saving grace of this intermittently amusing comedy. Among the reasons to attend “Office Christmas Party” are Kate McKinnon as Mary Winetoss, the killjoy from human resources; Rob Corddry as Jeremy, the world’s angriest customer-service rep; and a rather good Jennifer Aniston as Carol, the ruthless CEO of Zenotek — and Clay’s sister — who wants to close the branch. The movie’s slim premise is that if Clay and Josh can throw a party wild enough to impress a major client, Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance, cast against dignified type), they can save the business.
There will be romance (Olivia Munn plays Josh’s love interest, Tracey) and awkward trysts (Vanessa Bayer and Randall Park play shy co-workers), but it’s the appearance of cocaine and a prostitute that serve as your biggest hints that this movie comes from the creators of “The Hangover.” (As if you hadn’t guessed.) Directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon don’t mess with that surefire formula, though sometimes you wish they would.
“Office Christmas Party” marks a welcome starring role for Miller, who specializes in playing slyly intelligent space cadets. He and Bateman make such an endearing team (“Your mind,” Josh tells Clay, “is like a drunk baby”) that they’re almost worth the ticket price. As with so many parties, if you manage your expectations, you might have a pretty good time.