"OFFICE CHRISTMAS PARTY": Undeniably funny on a secular level, this movie is packed with enough raunchy content to merit extreme caution. If you can handle other R-rated comedies, feel free. If easily offended at all, don't go. Dateworthy for a very limited spectrum of viewers. You should know who you are.
"ARRIVAL": This brainy sci-fi film has mystery and smarts to spare, and with just one F word as its sole reason for a PG13 rating, anyone looking for a serious night at the movies can enjoy it. Dateworthy!
It seems that every year there are three types of movies that come out in the holiday season: artistic movies seeking Oscar approval, sentimental family movies centered around the holidays, and – for some strange reason – truly raunchy comedies that seek to blow a comedic hole in the reverence of the season.
This year’s biggest attempt at shock comedy during the Christmas season is this week’s new “Office Christmas Party.” The story follows the misadventures at the Chicago branch of a high-tech company called Zenotek, which is in danger of being shut down due to the insanely intense sibling rivalry between the company’s CEO Carol Vanstone (Jennifer Aniston) and her brother Clay (T.J. Miller), who runs the branch.
Carol is a cheap shrew who challenges the hard-partying Clay with the prospect that if he can’t close a $14 million deal in the next two days, the entire branch will be shut down on top of her already canceling the office holiday party and all the staff bonuses.
When Clay and his chief technical officer Josh (Jason Bateman) and Josh’s right-hand woman Tracey (Olivia Munn) meet with the potential client representative Walter Davis (Courtney B. Vance), he is bored by them and says that he’s turning them down because their corporate culture seems toxic. In a desperate attempt to win him over and save their office, the trio immediately hatches an impromptu scheme to throw the greatest office party of all time in the hopes of wowing Walter and closing the deal.
At first, the staid Walter isn’t impressed, and he opts to leave once Clay challenges him to swing off a balcony using a strand of Christmas lights. But then he accidentally gets a face full of cocaine blown directly at him when the company’s HR head Mary (Kate McKinnon) accidentally stuffs a baggie of the illicit powder into the fake-snow machine, and he turns into the hardest partier of them all. This all happens at the same time a sudden snowstorm strands Carol from making a planned trip to Europe and leads her to discover the party she has expressly forbidden.
What happens from there follows a well-worn formula on the surface, and on a secular level, this “Party” has some laughs and energy due to its terrific talent roster. Aside from the aforementioned stars, Rob Corddry of “Daily Show” and “Children’s Hospital” fame, “SNL” star Vanessa Bayer, and Randall Park of ABC’s hit sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat,” all appear, rounding out nine solid pros who are clearly having a fun time.
Directors Will Speck and Josh Gordon (“Blades of Glory” and the underrated “The Switch”) handle all of the mayhem with great energy, and only the final third – when the action spills into the streets of Chicago complete with frantic car chases - starts to feel exhausting.
Yet while it is well-made for its genre and it mostly shows its most immoral visual content in quick, almost split-second shots and doesn’t feel like its intentions are to simply shock like many other raunchy R-rated comedies, “Office Christmas Party” has plenty of troubling elements played for laughs and should be watched with extreme caution and only by those adult viewers who are certain that the immoral elements will not inspire their own immoral behavior or force lingering immoral thoughts into their minds.
There is frequent foul language, several very dirty jokes, and even some brief nudity. Comic violence includes several knockdown, drag out fights played for laughs between the sibling CEO and her branch-manager brother. There are also many scenes of rampant drinking and drunkenness, as well as cocaine use played for laughs. And be aware that there is a couple of quick moments with a Jesus impersonator hired for the party; in his first moment, he's seen with actors playing the three wise men and says, "It's my birthday." In the other, he's seen riding a horse in slow motion through the chaos wrought by the party.
However, there are some positive elements as the brother and sister touchingly reconcile at the end and the brother prays sincerely to God for help saving his branch’s jobs. Overall, this is one party nearly all discerning viewers should simply not attend.
Meanwhile, there is one movie that I missed reviewing earlier which is worth seeing: “Arrival.” Starring Amy Adams in one of the best performances of a career filled with Oscar nominations, the movie follows her as a linguistics expert called in to figure out what alien visitors want.
Teamed with a theoretical physicist (Jeremy Renner) who’s expected to figure out the science behind the aliens’ arrival, the duo enter one of a dozen spaceships and start to figure out that the aliens have an urgent timely message that affects the whole planet. The race against time to solve it is compelling and wondrous, and the end result has impressed most audiences and other reviewers more than myself, yet it’s still well worth the ride.
With only one F word as the entire basis of this movie’s PG-13 rating, “Arrival” is safe viewing for any teen or adult. It’s worth checking out before the arrival of another galactic juggernaut, the “Star Wars” prequel “Rogue One,” next weekend.