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'Office Christmas Party' doesn't get quite wild enough

2016 has blown. We deserved a better rager, even if this one will do in a pinch.
Office Christmas Party

"The People vs. O.J. Simpson"'s Courtney B. Vance (beside T.J. Miller) gets to letParamount Pictures

‘Office Christmas Party’
Directors:
Will Speck, Josh Gordon
Stars: Jason Bateman, T.J. Miller
Rating: R
2 (out of 5) Globes

Is it wrong to think “Office Christmas Party” isn’t sufficiently debauched? What more do you need than mass boozing, office furniture set ablaze and a shirtless, coked-up Courtney B. Vance attempting to swing like Tarzan from a vine of Christmas lights? Maybe it’s that this all-star comedy too often plays it safe, which is to say it falls back on too familiar vices. The jokes tend to be about sex and drugs, from a touchingly lame employee (Randall Park) who reveals a weird fetish to name actors fellating an “egg nog luge.” Meanwhile the storylines involve sincere office romance, sibling rivalry and a crime subplot swiped from an ’80s comedy. Honestly, it has nothing on last year’s “Sisters,” which culminated in a suburban manse devoured by a sink-hole.

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Unlike “Sisters,” “Office Christmas Party” doesn’t ruin the fun before it begins. Energetically directed by Will Speck and Josh Gordon (“Blades of Glory”), it drops us in an Internet server firm threatened with cutbacks, maybe worse. Jason Bateman does his 135,673rd turn as a the quietly flustered straight man, playing against such grotesques as the joint’s loopy trust fund boss (T.J. Miller) and a prissy HR goon (Kate McKinnon) whose loud Christmas sweaters betray her desire to keep the cocktails virginal. Their tyrannical CEO (Jennifer Aniston) wants their Chicago office shut down completely, and their only hope is luring a big-time client (Vance, deservedly cutting loose, and how) to their side — maybe, they delude themselves, by throwing the type of party that gets so out-of-hand that computers are flung from high-up windows.

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The story (though not the script) comes from “Hangover” guys Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, which isn’t surprising. What is surprising is that it never gets too too out of hand, falling far short of such absurdist heights as tigers roaming hotel rooms, stolen police cars or even face tattoos. It mostly falls back on a consistently diverting barrage of silliness and — that most overused yet reliable modern comedy trope — funny actors ad-libbing, including such ringers as Jillian Bell as a temperamentally imbalanced pimp who hugs one second, whips out a gun the next. But it's still perversely safe-ish. It should have escalated into a messy, angry, near-suicidal bacchanal — a multiplex version of this year’s “High-Rise.” Instead it settles for trashed employees using the 3-D printer on their peens. That will get the job done in a pinch, but 2016 deserved a far more apocalyptic rager.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge
 
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