Review of “Office Christmas Party”

I don’t know about you but where I work used to throw a very nice Christmas party. We would dress up, go to an off-site location, like a restaurant that closed for us or a ballroom, have a great spread of food, open bar, karaoke and prizes for employee of the year and gift cards for the staff would be passed out. It was quite a shindig that would be talked about for days after. Now things are a bit more laid back. We gather in a conference room at work, have a potluck lunch and play a few games for gift cards. There’s no bar, no catering and, much to my chagrin, no karaoke. I’m not complaining as we probably get far more of a holiday treat than most. Still, I miss the parties that sometimes got a little wild and how we would talk about “that” co-worker that passed out in his chair or puked on the dancefloor from too much holiday cheer. No matter how excessive our get-togethers became, they look like a Boy Scout Jamboree compared to the events in “Office Christmas Party.” While I think I would feel wholly out of place and very uncomfortable at such a massive drink-and-drug-fueled bacchanalia I did enjoy watching it in movie form.

The Chicago office of tech/server company Zenotech is managed by Clay (TJ Miller), son of the late company founder. His sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston) is the interim CEO which may be made permanent at the next board meeting. Clay and Carol have a strained relationship as he was coddled and protected by his father, allowing him to skate through school and life, while she worked hard and made herself into a smart and shrewd business executive. Chief Technical Officer for the Chicago office is Josh (Jason Bateman) who has just finalized his divorce. His immediate underling Tracey (Olivia Munn) thinks Josh plays it too safe and she has been working on a new method for wireless internet access that could revolutionize connectivity. Josh thinks the plan is far from ready. Carol storms into the office and calls a department head meeting where she announces layoffs of 40% of the staff, no bonuses and cancels the Christmas party. Clay and Josh tell her they are about to pitch a big server contract to Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance) who handles tech purchases for a giant company. If they can land the contract Carol, who is leaving that night for London, agrees there won’t be any layoffs and bonuses will be paid. Clay, Josh and Tracey meet with Davis but he fears Zenotech is more concerned about the bottom line than its employees, citing the recent closing of another branch. Clay ensures Davis Zenotech is more like a family than a company and invites him to the office Christmas party despite it being cancelled by Carol. He agrees to come giving Clay, Josh and Tracey only five hours to throw together a massive blowout from scratch.

“Office Christmas Party” is a pretty typical R-rated raunchy comedy. There is some nudity, some drug use, some hidden attraction between a couple of characters that slowly is exposed, a quirky member of the staff that goes from being hated to being loved, family rifts are mended, etc. Looking at what makes up the story, the film is a convoluted and overstuffed mess. Judging it by how much I laughed, it’s a holiday miracle.

“Office Christmas Party” is filled with lots of funny people: TJ Miller, Jason Bateman, Jennifer Aniston, Olivia Munn, Jillian Bell, Rob Corddry, Kate McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer, Karan Soni, Matt Walsh and more. Some of these folks, namely Miller, were allowed to improvise on set extensively. A surprisingly high percentage of what stayed in the film works. It’s one of those rare comedies where the actors were allowed to just play and see what happens and it actually came out funny. There are a lot of laughs in “Office Christmas Party.” Many of them are cheap visual gags and tasteless sexual humor but funny is funny so who cares.

A surprising comedic performance is turned by Courtney B. Vance. Better known for his dramatic roles in a couple of the “Law & Order” series and most recently in “The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story,” for which he won an Emmy outstanding lead actor in a drama limited series, Vance starts out serious and straight-laced; but an encounter with a face full of cocaine accidently put through a snow blower releases the party animal within the character. It is a wildly different role for Vance and he performs it with abandon and glee. You actually feel his character is relieved to let loose and have fun for once. Granted, it ends somewhat badly for that character but still, Vance’s performance is so energetic it almost makes his injuries worth it.

Kate McKinnon also turns in another brilliant supporting performance as Mary, the head of human resources. Constantly reminding people about the risks they run for enjoying themselves too much at the party (including telling them they need to have any party sex off the work property and in the parking lot next door), McKinnon plays Mary like a volcano about to erupt. She wants to do the things she warns others not to but lacks the confidence and fears what her co-workers would think of her. She shouldn’t worry since none of them like her for her constant reminders about following proper office protocols and the dress code. McKinnon might be getting pigeonholed as the eccentric supporting player but she tears into this one with enormous gusto and fearlessness. I’m sure we’ll discover she is a brilliant dramatic actress one day but I do enjoy her performance here as the odd duck that finally finds her place.

The story of “Office Christmas Party” is overly complicated and takes a few odd turns while still being rather predictable. I won’t get too specific about the details but it seems to not be sure exactly how to get to the inevitable happy ending so it keeps throwing in complications for the main characters while juxtaposing it with the increasing insanity of the party. The ever increasing alcohol abuse, drug use and office casual sex reaches such an overload it isn’t realistically sustainable. I know it’s a movie and there wasn’t any actual substance abuse and rampant unsafe sex but there comes a point where its onscreen depiction exceeds the audiences’ ability to accept or believe it. The same can be said for the complications piled on complications that show up for our heroes. The speed with which they are solved also makes the weak and overloaded story that much more threadbare.

“Office Christmas Party” is rated R for drug use, crude sexual content, graphic nudity and language throughout. Pot and cocaine are shown being freely used in the latter half of the movie. Alcohol overindulgence is also a major part of the story. There are several brief views of topless women, a very brief view of male genitalia and an equally brief view of a couple having sex on a desk as well as many bare backsides of both sexes. Foul language is common throughout.

It may not become a family holiday tradition to watch the DVD of “Office Christmas Party,” but it is a fun way to kill a couple of hours if you want to take a break from holiday shopping in your local multiplex. The laughs are as free flowing as the alcohol at the party of the title. It isn’t for the easily offended and those that can’t take a joke at the expense of the holiday. If you have your big boy Santa hat on, this might be just the relief from the holiday hassle you are looking for.

“Office Christmas Party” gets five stars.

This week we get a visit from death, love and time plus we return to a galaxy far, far away. I’ll see and review at least one of the following and who am I kidding as we all know what I’m going to see:

Collateral Beauty—

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “Deadpool”

Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is a former Special Forces soldier who is now a mercenary for hire. If you have a problem and aren’t real concerned with things like laws and ethics, Wade is the man that can solve your problem. While hanging out at a bar frequented by more of his kind and run by his friend Weasel (T.J. Miller) he meets Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), an escort who is as tough and foul-mouthed as Wade. They quickly begin a relationship that seems destined for marriage; however, one night Wade passes out. At the doctor the next day, he and Vanessa find out he has terminal cancer. Vanessa is hopeful there is a treatment that might save him but Wade is certain he will die and doesn’t want to put her through the trauma of watching his decline. At the bar, Wade is approached by a recruiter (Jed Rees) who claims he can cure his cancer. Initially skeptical, Wade packs up in the middle of the night and leaves for the program without telling Vanessa. There he is strapped to a gurney and rolled through a chamber of horrors. A man in a lab coat calling himself Ajax (Ed Skrein) tells Wade they will inject him with various chemicals to activate any mutant genes in his DNA. He will then be subjected to various physical tortures to activate the mutation. If he survives the treatment and his mutation activates, he will likely be cured of his cancer but will then be a slave to the project and never go home. Locked in an airtight chamber, Wade is deprived of oxygen. This activates his mutation, giving him quick healing power but scarring all the skin on his body. Wade manages to escape the chamber and fights Ajax, whose real name is Francis Freeman, who has himself gone through the treatment and does not feel pain and possesses enhanced strength. Wade is left for dead but is actually on a path of revenge. He is looking for Francis with the mission of getting him to fix his skin and he doesn’t care who he has to kill to find him. Weasel suggests a mask to cover his face while Wade comes up with a catchy name for his merc with the mouth: Deadpool.

“Deadpool” is not your usual superhero movie. Most noticeably, it’s rated R and deservedly so. The violence, language and nudity in the film are unlike anything ever seen before in this genre. The character of Deadpool is also unlike your everyday superhero. He is willing, almost eager, to kill those that fight against him. He seems to enjoy inflicting pain his enemies. Even the opening credits of the film take potshots at superhero movies. This isn’t a film for the easily offended… and I think the format could use more like “Deadpool.”

The movie moves at a brisk pace with the story told in a combination of flashbacks and present time. While the origin story is a bit slow at times the rest of the film more than makes up for it with snappy action sequences, funny lines and so many in-jokes that you probably need to see the movie more than once to catch them all. It is certainly a feast for those wanting to see the character get a bit of redemption after it was so poorly handled in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine”
(which also gets skewered in the film). With its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, “Deadpool” is well aware everything we are seeing is utter ridiculous and even characters that are treated seriously are played as superhero/villain stereotypes making them easy targets for satire.

Ryan Reynolds is a perfect choice for the Merc with the Mouth. Reynolds has the smartass delivery that makes this character pop. Whether he’s making goofy sweet talk to Vanessa, bro bud talk with Weasel or tough talking Francis, Reynolds gives Wade Wilson/Deadpool the kind of nimble comedic repartee necessary for the character not to come off as trying too hard. Busting balls is second nature to the character and I believe to Reynolds as well.

Morena Baccarin is a perfect mix of sexy and tough, playing Vanessa as a woman who doesn’t need a man to protect her or complete her. In her relationship with Wade, Vanessa gives as good as she gets (sometimes literally) and is about as equal a partner as has ever been seen in a superhero movie; however, the script turns Vanessa into a hovering mother when Wade receives his diagnosis. For some reason, screenwriters Rhett Rees and Paul Wernick fall back on tried and true sexual stereotypes. Vanessa originally seems like the kind of woman who wouldn’t allow her partner to wallow in self-pity the way Wade does. She would demand Wade fight. Sadly, Rees and Wernick turn this strong, modern woman into a 1950’s housewife. Tonally it doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie.

That could also be said of the standard issue finale. I won’t give anything away but if you’ve seen one superhero film you won’t be surprised about how “Deadpool” ends. While the character does throw in a small twist it isn’t one that isn’t obviously coming from the beginning of the movie. Considering whom Vanessa is in the comics, they could have set up a mind-blowing sequel by showing us her abilities and what kind of heartache was in store for Deadpool. Perhaps that’s on the drawing board for a future film but considering everything else “Deadpool” did to separate itself from most other genre movies, a last-page-of-the-comic twist would have fanned the flames of viewers’ interest even more than the snarky post-credits scenes that may or may not tell us what’s going on in the sequel.

“Deadpool” is rated R for language throughout, graphic nudity, sexual content and strong violence. There are beheadings, dismemberments, stabbings and gory gunshot wounds galore. There is both male and female nudity and an extended sexual montage that may change the way you look at mashed potatoes forever. Foul language is common but not overwhelming.

Opening to a box office total well over projections and a fair amount of critical love, 20th Century Fox basically had no choice but to greenlight a sequel. While this film is certainly far different from any other Marvel superhero movie we’ve had since the premiere of “Iron Man” in 2008 and that uniqueness likely encouraged possibly comic-book-film-fatigued fans to turn out, “Deadpool” still couldn’t escape the predictable third act heroics of a character that boasts about how he is not a hero. Perhaps the makers of the next film will have the courage to fight studio pressure to turn the Merc with the Mouth into just another spandex-wearing goody-two-shoe. That’s the way Wade Wilson would want it.

“Deadpool” gets four stars out of five.

A film of bravery, a film of faith and a film of dark magic open this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Race—

Risen—

The Witch—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.