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'Office Christmas Party' makes us work too hard to find laughs

“Office Christmas Party” – “Home Alone” (1990) is a classic Christmas movie! This family film takes place in Chicago, and Kevin McCallister (Macauley Culkin) famously turns his house into a war zone. In 2016, another Christmas film decided to make Second City home as well, “Office Christmas Party”. In this wild comedy, the head of Zenotek’s Chicago branch, Clay Vanstone (T.J. Miller), inadvertently or deliberately (depending upon your point of view) turns his office into a war zone as well. That is where the similarities end between the two movies, because his raging work party burns out of control, and the movie rightfully and proudly earns its R rating.

In other words, leave the kids at home.

Although the movie shows plenty of comedic promise during its first 30 minutes, the story quickly devolves and the laughs generally fall absent – ironically - once the party begins.

For Clay, a trust fund 30-something, he always lives his own party, or as his chief technology officer, Josh Parker (Jason Bateman), puts it, “You have the mind of a drunk baby.”

Miller is absolutely hilarious with his quick-witted/slacker comments reaching lightning round speed at all times. For example, when walking with Josh on the Chicago streets without a jacket in late December, Clay simply explains that he gains 15 pounds for the winter, so he is never cold. Clay might carry the business acumen and common sense of Chris Farley’s Tommy in “Tommy Boy” (1995), but he shares his heart of gold as well. He wants the best for his employees, which include fair pay, healthy bonuses and friendly work conditions, but his sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston) rides into town. She threatens to cut 40 percent of the staff, unless Clay can devise a financial miracle and land a multi-million dollar account from a potential customer, Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance).

What would any responsible executive do? Throw a crazy office Christmas party and, in the process, win over Davis, of course!

By far, the two best ingredients in this comedy are the onscreen siblings, played by Miller and Aniston. Aniston simply - but very, very effectively - fetches her mean-spirited dentist act from “Horrible Bosses” (2011) and offers it here. Save a few, quick one-liners, almost everything else in this picture fails miserably, even with an impressive cast of supporting comedians, and the most notable are Kate McKinnon, Olivia Munn, Jillian Bell, and Rob Corddry. Unfortunately, their talents are generally wasted, and the script accounts for more misses than a debutant ball on New Year's Eve.

I could run through all of the missed opportunities, but I will focus on the main players. Bateman – for some reason - plays a friendly, newly divorced company man, so some of his classic sarcasm exists but is sparsely used. Bateman is so good when torching other characters with mockery and cynicism, and if you do not believe me, please see 2013’s “Bad Words”. He is not given much to do here, other than introduce the possibility of an in-office romance with Munn’s character. Sadly, it goes nowhere, and when the two put on snowmen outfits and perform a “fun, little boogie” on the dance floor, my eyes rolled faster than you can say, “Gag me with a spoon.”

When the party does begin, it borders on insanity. Goats drink out of the toilets, cocaine is shot out of a snow cannon and employees joust with Christmas trees and push a vending machine out of a skyscraper window. The mob scene, covering two floors, sure looks like a lot of fun, but the onscreen characters seem to be having a lot more of it than we are in the theatre audience.

Well, they say that less is more. In this case, more is less.

More or less, if you want to enjoy a funny Chicago Christmas film, not only leave the kids home, but you should stay home as well and stream “Home Alone” (1990) instead.

(1.5/4 stars)

Image credits: Paramount Pictures

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