Despite its air of being a reunion for cast members of the “Saturday Night Live” TV series during its despondent years, the new film “Office Christmas Party” is generally diverting. It relies on some old ideas about comedy movie plotting, essentially dividing its squad of characters into pairs, with each pair working out some problem. But then all of the problems are easily resolved. The movie gets a lift toward its end when well-intended characters chase around trying to find and save their loveable screw-up boss Clay (T.J. Miller). But that runaway horse refuses that plot fence, too. And then there’s a long period of falling action—anti-climax—at the end of the film.
Clay has been running the Chicago office of a company that sells large business computers. Using his own money to encourage worker morale and leaning heavily on his second-in-command Josh (Jason Bateman), he has managed to make a six and a half percent profit.
But his mean sister Carol (Jennifer Anniston, suitably cast) is dissatisfied with that number. She has succeeded their father as the head of the company, and now she is in the windy city to cancel Christmas parties and bonuses and to announce personnel cuts.
As she leaves for her plane, she allows that she would keep things as they are if Clay could secure a large order from visiting procurement officer Walter Davis (Courtney B.
Vance). This is not the Walter Davis who was a basketball star, though a member of the Bulls does show up at that evening’s party.
The party, forbidden by Carol, is part of Clay’s plan to win Walter over. He’ll show the purchaser what the “culture” of the company is like and then Walter will want to buy their servers.
The celebration grows as Clay spends money and employees call in friends and strangers to make up numbers at the event. There’s lots of drinking— egg nog is dispensed though the penis of an ice sculpture— and some sexual activity—the photocopy room is filled with partially dressed people trying to make pictures of their private parts. And then someone remembers the existence of a “3D printer.”
The sub units of characters emerge. Josh, whose divorce has become final that day, and programmer Tracey (Olivia Munn, a little more expressive that we’re used to seeing her) find themselves stuck on the building’s roof, in the cold, when a door locks automatically. Company rebel Jeremy (Rob Corddry) and “Human Resources” boss Mary (Kate McKinnon) get to jousting.
Geeky Nate has hired a call girl to pretend to be his girlfriend, and then she gets to working jobs on the side, eventually helping her female pimp to kidnap Clay. And Clay’s secretary has a moment with a man who turns out to be the office masochist.
This is all wild and colorful, or at least it is all intended to be wild and colorful, but none of it settles much. Remember Walter? Well, it turns out he likes the chaos and cordiality of the office crew.
He is walking by the fake snow disperser when Mary mistakenly puts a packet of the hooker’s cocaine into its hopper. The white powder is blown right into his face. And he decides he ought to take the sort of stupid but dramatic action Clay earlier suggested to him.
Walt will grab a string of electric Christmas lights that trails down from the ceiling, and he’ll swing on that to end up on the party’s ground floor. But is that strand of lights secure at the top?
There is one really admirable camera shot in “Office Christmas Party.” It was taken from outside and shows several floors of the party as seen through floor to ceiling windows. Carol discovers the party is on when she comes back into town after O’Hare Airport is—and this is highly unlikely—shut down by the film’s minor snow storm. But as a cinematic image, the shot really is a hoot.
There aren’t too many hoots in the film. But there aren’t all that many groans, either. If you need a new seasonal comedy, “Office Christmas Party” is showing now. Claiming more might be overreaching.