Content-wise, there isn’t a lot of difference between the crude sexual humor and pervasive vulgarity of the recent “Bad Santa 2” and this week’s “Office Christmas Party.” Both Christmas-themed comedies traffic in the groin-fixated humor, debauchery, slapstick violence, substance abuse and corrosive foul language that have come to characterize much of the modern R-rated comedy world.
There is, however, one big difference between these two holiday presents, and that’s presentation. Whereas “Bad Santa 2” delivers its dyspeptic yuks in a perfunctory package that feels as if it was wrapped, haphazardly, in newspaper once used to line a bird cage, “Office Christmas Party” comes all dressed up in sparkly paper and a pretty little bow. “Office Christmas Party” feels like it was actually made by happy — albeit smutty — elves, and not disgruntled sweatshop workers. The elves in this case are co-directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck, of “Blades of Glory,” working from a filthy and funny script by Justin Malen, Laura Solon and Dan Mazer.
The film’s success is due to the the twinkly commitment of the large and talented cast. Jennifer Aniston plays Carol Vanstone, the Grinch-y matriarch of a national tech firm who is threatening layoffs on the day of the Chicago branch’s annual holiday party, unless her chief technology officer (Jason Bateman) and the branch’s manager (T.J. Miller) — who also happens to be Carol’s dimwitted brother, dimwitted and kindhearted in equal measure — can sign up a potential new client (Courtney B. Vance).
‘Office Christmas Party’ feels like it was actually made by happy — albeit smutty — elves, and not disgruntled sweatshop workers.
Cue the party, which Vanstone had wanted to cancel, but which now has taken on a new level of urgency, seeing as it is the only enticement the firm can use to seduce the customer. What kind of party is this, exactly? One that serves up eggnog via an ice sculpture in the shape of a priapic gnome, and includes an artificial snow machine that accidentally blasts Vance’s character with a face full of cocaine, brought by the prostitute (Abbey Lee) who has been hired by a lovelorn IT worker (Karan Soni) to pose as his girlfriend.
Yes, it’s that type of party. Meaning: one filled with easy stereotypes and silly jokes, all of which are rendered with such glee that somehow makes them less offensive than they ought to be. In other words, “Office Christmas Party” is an invitation to the kind of mind-and-conscience-erasing escapism that doesn’t really exist outside of movie theaters. The heightened unreality of the film gives Bateman another opportunity to access his seemingly bottomless reservoir of put-out sardonic deadpan, and for Miller— and his cast of supporting court jesters — to play the buffoon.
It also makes it easy to forget your own troubles, as long as you are willing to leave good taste, common sense and decorum at the coat check.
Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Courtney B. Vance, Kate McKinnon, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park.
Josh Gordon, Will Speck.
Justin Malen, Laura Solon, Dan Mazer.
A Paramount Pictures release. Running time: 105 minutes. Vulgar language, crude sexual content, nudity, drug use, all-around bad behavior. Playing at area theaters.