As is so often the case with parties, the moderate pleasures of the comedy Office Christmas Party can be found not so much in what happens as simply who's on the guest list. With a large and talented ensemble cast on hand to enliven the event, there are almost enough laughs throughout to excuse the fact that there are so many one-note characters weaving in and out of the revelry that you might not even realize not one of them has enough depth to make you care what happens to them.
At the data management company ZenoTek, the newly divorced Josh (Jason Bateman) is a CTO who flirts regularly with lead systems engineer, Tracey (Olivia Munn). The family-run company isn't doing so well lately, which has led CEO Carol (Jennifer Aniston) to let her branch-managing ne'er-do-well brother Clay (TJ Miller) know that there will need to be some layoffs — and everyone can forget about the usual Christmas bonuses, too.
Clay, Josh and Tracey set out to save the company by landing a big new account, inviting its representative (Courtney B. Vance) to a Christmas party at their office that Carol has strictly forbidden the company to have. Clay spares no expense, though, in making the shindig a massive affair, slowly transforming the office from a place of business to a decadent bacchanal of sex, drugs and destruction that starts to attract pretty much the whole city of Chicago.
With the lead trio of Bateman, Aniston and Miller playing variations on roles they've played before in better projects and a large supporting cast rounded out by reliable staples of the comedy community, it's perhaps somewhat inevitable that the results are a bit of a mixed bag.
SNL's Kate McKinnon gradually threatens to steal the show as an uptight HR rep who learns to let loose, Rob Corddry brings the same sort of unhinged energy that made him such an integral part of the first Hot Tub Time Machine film, and Workaholics' Jillian Bell milks every last laugh out of her role as the most unlikely of menacing pimps.
In less appealing roles are McKinnon's fellow SNL cast member Vanessa Bayer, who's stuck in an unfortunate subplot that sees her single mother Allison getting into an awkward romantic encounter with co-worker Fred (Randall Park) and Karan Soni as IT geek Nate, who hatches an all-too-predictable plan to convince his co-workers he has a girlfriend by hiring an escort. The aforementioned Vance, meanwhile, traces a familiar trajectory from strait-laced suit to booze-swilling party animal as soon as he's accidentally ingested some drugs.
Directors Josh Gordon and Will Speck have had one hit (Blades of Glory) and one miss (The Switch) in their two previous feature directorial efforts, and this one pretty much splits the difference between the two. In fact, it all ends up actually feeling a lot like it does to attend many parties — sure, it can be fun for a little while and you're happy to see some familiar faces there, but when things start to go off the rails, you kind of just want to duck out of there and go home already. (Paramount)