A Christ­mas com­edy, by smutty elves

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - By Michael O’Sullivan

Com­edy. R. 105 min­utes.

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 paint­peel­ing 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-con­scienceeras­ing 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.

T.J. Miller plays Clay Van­stone, left, and Ja­son Bate­man plays Josh Parker in “Of­fice Christ­mas Party.” Glen Wil­son, Paramount Pic­tures

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