Content-wise, there isn’t a whole 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 that have turned up under the multiplex Christmas tree, 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.
It’s no less lowbrow, but it 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.
Mostly, though, the film’s success is due to the twinkly commitment of the large and talented cast, which includes Jason Bateman, Olivia Munn, T.J. Miller, Courtney B. Vance, Kate McKinnon, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Randall Park, Jillian Bell and Jennifer Aniston, the last of whom delivers a somewhat coarser, much less concupiscent version of the America’s-sweetheart-gone-sour character she played in the “Horrible Bosses” movies. Here, her Carol Vanstone is 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 (Bateman) and the branch’s manager (Miller) – who also happens to be Carol’s brother, dimwitted and kindhearted in equal measure – can sign up a potential new client (Vance).
Cue the party, which Carol 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 so-sue-me glee that somehow makes them less offensive than they ought to be, and only as hilarious as you will allow. (I found the paint-peeling level of the film’s blithely acerbic gross-out humor a welcome tonic to the equally venomous – but far more consequential – crassness of the recent election. Your results may vary.)
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. But that level of heightened unreality only makes for more opportunity for Bateman 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.
Office Christmas Party
Cast: Justin Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Courtney B. Vance, T.J. Miller, Kate McKinnon, Rob Corddry
Directors: Josh Gordon and Will Speck
Rated R (obscenity and crude sexual humor throughout, drug use and graphic nudity)