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REVIEW

'Office Christmas Party' review: Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman serve up a lump of coal

By Jim Slotek, Special to Postmedia Network

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Entertainment Review

Office Christmas Party

2.5 stars

  • Starring: Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Kate McKinnon, T.J. Miller, Courtney B. Vance, Olivia Munn, Rob Corddry, Vanessa Bayer, Karan Soni
  • Directed by: Josh Gordon, Will Speck
  • Written by: Justin Malen, Laura Solon, Dan Mazer
  • Duration: 105 minutes

You know those office Christmas parties where everyone tries to look like they’re having a good time, but they’re really not?

Well, it’s playing at a theatre near you.

A comedy-by-committee (it has two directors and multiple credited writers – which means maybe five more had a hand at tossing in jokes), Office Christmas Party takes an embarrassment of riches cast and gives them a script stuffed full of lumps of coal wisecracks.

The small army of joke-writers obviously had an eye on transgressive comedies from Animal House to The Hangover to Bad Santa. But filtered through the Hollywood feel-good comedy sieve, there’s not much left of the premise beyond contrivance and punch-lines.

Josh (Jason Bateman) is a tech exec whose divorce comes through just before Christmas. His putative boss, a man-child named Clay (T.J. Miller) is being bullied by his rhymes-with-witch CEO sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston), who is using a disappointing quarter as justification for mass layoffs and – oh yeah, for cancelling the office “holiday” party and the bonuses that come with it.

She gives them one out – if they can steal a major high-tech client named Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) away from Dell in two days, all will be merry and bright.

So Josh, Clay and the hot, tech genius Tracey (Olivia Munn) decide to kill two birds with one stone by staging the party anyway and getting Walter to come.

Them’s the bones on which hang a bunch of cardboard office-stereotypes – out of which some pretty impressive comedy talent is asked to squeeze laughs. Like SNL’s Kate McKinnon, who plays an anal HR exec with a tendency towards flatulence in stressful situations. Because… farts.

Rob Corddry is the loud office d-bag. Vanessa Bayer is the self-doubting, lonely single-mom who basically runs the office without credit. Karan Soni (Deadpool’s cabbie) is the office geek who’s always talking about his pretend girlfriend, and who hires a call-girl to prove she’s real. And on and on.

Connect those dots to a meltdown with a mood-swinging female pimp (Jillian Bell) and Aniston using the Israeli martial art krav maga on a bunch of Russian mobsters and you’ve got one hot mess of a comedy with minimal laughter as return on investment.

The one character who seems remotely genuine is Miller's Clay, who is basically his Silicon Valley persona rendered more childlike.

For all that sweaty, desperate joke-writing, most of the minimal laughs in the movie come from a few moments of actual slapstick. Someone knocks over a giant department store Christmas tree. A coked-out partier tries to play Tarzan with the ceiling Christmas lights to injurious effect.

The party itself is eventually a sex-drugs-and-booze-filled riot of The Purge proportions. But it’s staged anarchy without context, consequences or anyone to care about.

Twitter: @jimslotek

JSlotek@postmedia.com