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Film review: ‘Office Christmas Party’

‘Office Christmas Party’ is showing at the Sonoma 9 Cinemas. Rated R. Running time 1:45. Visit cinemawest.com.

Christmas is accompanied by a sense of desperation. Perhaps you’re in a frenzy trying to find a perfect gift for your iPad-obsessed nephew, a sufficiently powerful eggnog recipe, and a holiday movie that’s at least quaffable to watch while you unwind. Good luck with the other items on your list, because the new release “Office Christmas Party” is unbearable.

As the inventive title indicates, this is a film about the holiday goings on at Zenotek, a floundering tech company in Chicago. Jason Bateman, who has decided he may only take roles that resemble exactly his cautious ironist in “Arrested Development,” plays Josh, the chief technology officer. And, having wrested the overgrown manchild mantle from Seth Rogen, T. J. Miller (so uproarious on “Silicon Valley”) is Clay, the branch manager. To see Bateman and Miller is to expect to laugh – but the difference is that “Arrested Development” and “Silicon Valley” are well-written and “Office Christmas Party” is closer to unwritten.

The boys’ antagonist is Clay’s sister Carol (Jennifer Aniston), the CEO of the company and a flatly-conceived Grinch in stilettos, who plans to close the Chicago office (her murderous taste is confirmed by the copy of “The Girl on the Train” she carries). At least her “Rachel” haircut is back.

But before the shutdown, however, there shall be a “non-denominational holiday mixer.” The fete is conceived to impress the last man whose Hail Mary investment could save Zenotek, Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance). He is unimpressed with the spectacle until his face absorbs a blast of cocaine that had providentially just been dropped into a snow machine.

Reliance on that kind of contrivance is par for the course in the overlong setup for the festivities – the organizers pack into the office live reindeer, a live nativity scene, and an almost lifelike cameo by Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler (Michael Jordan was apparently not within budget). There’s even an eggnog ice luge that produces just the sort of frothy finish you’d expect.

The last time one remembers such a thoroughly unfunny purported raunchfest it was Dan Mazer’s “Dirty Grandpa,” and the man returns as a writer here like a ghost of bad 2016 films past. It seems every undercooked idea spitballed out in the writer’s room finds its way into “Office Christmas Party.” A violent female pimp devoted to Bed, Bath and Beyond coupons? Sure. An Asian-American accountant with a mommy-baby fetish? That’ll be hilarious.

As with the disappointing “Ghostbusters,” Kate McKinnon is the least unfunny person in a disappointing comedy – here she plays Mary, the head of HR and proves herself again to be our most gifted suggestive winker. Also wasted (in the sense of underutilized rather than intoxicated) is Olivia Munn’s Tracey, who might just be the brains behind Zenotek’s operation but is hamstrung by an unmotivated and incoherent relationship with Josh.

This failure falls at the feet of directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon, who reflexively return to long shots of vague debauchery in which nothing specific happens. The film often generates the sense that something much funnier will occur shortly but the moment never arrives (the movie is wildly overlong even at an hour and 45 minutes). It was a tall task to craft a holiday flick less amusing than last year’s Xmas blunder “The Night Before,” but they did it.

‘Office Christmas Party’ is showing at the Sonoma 9 Cinemas. Rated R. Running time 1:45. Visit cinemawest.com.

The best yuletide workplace comedy – the British “Office” Christmas Special – is both hilarious and wrenching enough to merit rewatching every year. And perhaps it’s unfair to ask a film to reach those heights. But Hollywood ought to be able to deliver a Christmas film that’s funnier than the actual office Christmas party you were compelled to attend for work.

Watch a trailer below: