There’s something about seeing Jason Bateman’s face on a movie poster that screams “this film isn’t going to be as good as it could be”. This effect is heightened when accompanied by the words “from the guys who brought you Horrible Bosses“. Anyone who’s been around for a long time may remember that I reviewed Horrible Bosses back in 2015 and was, to put it mildly, unimpressed. And there are countless examples of me watching underwhelming Jason Bateman comedies. I still strongly believe that there is a great actor somewhere behind the gurning facade we see in most of his films. Recently we’ve seen him move into more serious roles so hopefully we’ll finally see him do something really worthy. Until then we’re left with films like Games Night. I knew as soon as I saw the trailer for this that I didn’t really want to watch it. The only thing it had going for it was the West Highland White Terrier on the poster. We used to have a Westie when I was younger so I’m super fond of that breed. I’m blaming the film’s dog for my eventual watching of it. It’s so bloody cute I had to watch it.
As we’re now well into the month of January 2017, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the time for watching Christmas films is over. You’d be correct but I’ve had a weird desire to see this film for ages now. I say weird because my expectations for the film were microscopic. It looked abysmal and, let’s be honest, Jason Bateman isn’t exactly known for his superb film choices. However, my insane love of Kate McKinnon meant that I really wanted to give it a chance. After all, doesn’t she guarantee that, even if the whole thing is baf, that she’ll provide adequate comedy to make anything passable? Well I certainly hope so. Considering I’m potentially drenching myself in bad luck by watching this after the twelve days of Christmas is up. Imagine if it’s bad and Santa doesn’t bring me any gifts next year. Sheesh!
Office Christmas Party seems like it should be a super simple film: a childish boss organises a Christmas party at work that gets wildly out of hand. However, thanks to the seemingly endless number of writers, this film becomes unnecessarily bloated and full of needless characters. Especially when you consider that, at it’s most basic level, it is a comedy about a staff Christmas party that gets wildly out of hand. I mean it was hardly crying out for subtext or depth. Just some typical workplace comedy utilising the cast of great comic talents and enviable improvisational skills. Instead we have a film in which the titular Christmas party is actually less important to the plot than almost everything else happening on screen. If anything that’s just an after thought.
The main narrative of Office Christmas Party involves ambitious CEO Carol (Jennifer Aniston) threatens to shut down her brother, Clay’s (TJ Miller), branch of their recently deceased father’s tech company. She will only give the branch a reprieve if Clay can land a high profile account. So Clay teams up with his friend, CTO Josh (Jason Bateman) and the head of tech Tracey (Olivia Munn) to encourage the account manager Walter (Courtney B. Vance) to agree to a partnership. Apparently the only way to make this happen is to throw a massive Christmas party that Walter never really seems keen to attend.
So there we have the central theme running through this travesty of a Christmas comedy. In addition to that is Josh’s impending divorce and attraction to Tracey; new single mum Allison (Vanessa Bayer) dipping her toe back into the dating pool; the head of HR ary (Kate McKinnon) and her desire to not cause offence to anyone in the world ever: and the desperate attempts of Nate (Karan Sori) to not lose face in a lie about a hot girlfriend by hiring an escort. And even that isn’t the end of the plot points on display but if I try and name all of them here it’ll waste too much time and space.
The problem with Office Christmas Party is that it tries too hard to be funny. There are so many failed attempts to be funny that the random times in which it happens just don’t seem as great. I mean if you throw enough darts at a dartboard then at least one of them is bound to hit something big, right? There were too many voices being heard when this film was being written and it shows. It is bogged down by the huge cast of characters and the number of storylines that it’s meant to tie up before the credits role. It means that none of them feel satisfactory. It’s all kind of cliched and obvious but nothing memorable. Even the great improvisers like Kate McKinnon aren’t really given much room to work and are wasted in terrible roles. I even felt sorry for Vanessa Bayer, my least favourite SNL current cast member, for being underused here.
Office Christmas Party is so keen to create whimsy, fun, and Christmas cheer that it fails to manage any of them. Everything is forced instead of feeling natural and the jokes are so clearly signposted that the eventual punchline is more of a comfort than a joy. This is just a lazily written film that takes any potential it had and throws it out of the window. It’s cheap and easy comedy that adds a few emotional plots in for good measure. The central love story and brother/sister relationship are lacking in real sentimentality and seem to exist only for the traditional Christmas spirit ending. I knew that this film was going to be terrible before I watched it but even I was surprised by how bad it was. Never has is been so obvious that ideas were lacking. Well, what else explains the need to throw every possible scenario onto one screen? If I do get bad luck this year then it’s clear that Office Christmas Party wasn’t worth it..
My sister’s wedding is getting ever closer so I’m not exactly focused on the blog this week. There’s a lot of sorting, cleaning and final mad panic buys going on round here that I’ve been a bit lazy with my selections this week. High-Rise was something I’ve had on my list for ages and I watched it when I had a spare evening. My pick for today had even less thought behind it. Netflix suggested it to me last weekend and, as it’s been such a fucking age since I saw it, didn’t hesitate. Now, every week I try and get my Tuesday and Thursday posts to match up in some way: that might be by actor, genre or director but, as is usually the case, it’s based on whatever flimsy connection I can create. This weeks connection is the 1970s. Both of this week’s films are set in the 70s and that was enough of a connection to prevent me madly searching for a film set in a tower block or just watching the 90s adaptation of Crash. Neither of those things fit into my schedule or filled me with a massive amount of desire. So here we have it. A random film that you’ll probably all have watched many many times. It almost doesn’t seem worth bothering but when have I ever been known to listen to common sense?
Hollywood in the late 90s and early 2000s was definitely going through the time of Frat Pack: the name given to the group of comedy actors like Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. The guys placed into this group by the media would turn up together in films in any number of combinations and were constantly churning out films that are, at least now, beloved by fans. Starsky & Hutch came after a string of films like Old School, Zoolander and Meet the Parents and attempted to reboot the popular 70s TV show using the lure of the Frat Pack stars. With added Snoop Dogg oviously. Ben Stiller takes on the role of David Starsky from Paul Michael Glaser whilst his Zoolander co-star Owen Wilson stepped into David Sole’s shows as Ken Hutchinson.
The film’s plot is hardly anything to write home about but it was never really going to be. We see the two Detectives form an unlikely partnership as they attempt to bust a drug baron, Reese Feldman (Vince Vaughn), as he attempts to pull off the biggest drug deal ever seen. Along the way, they are given assistance from dodgy “businessman” and Hutch’s acquaintance Huggy Bear (Snoop Dogg) and a dragon obsessed convict (Will Ferrell). Obviously, things aren’t easy for the pair and their eventually have to go behind their captain’s back when they are inevitably suspended. It’s all very by the books for a buddy cop but fleshed out with a few in-jokes concerning the original series.
Still, that’s not to say the film isn’t funny. Yes, it doesn’t do anything to blow the genre wide open but it gives the performers enough room to work their comedy. Stiller and Wilson have just enough chemistry on screen to sell their characters and the hit-and-miss script. Their relationship is the same kind of thing that has kept them in business for years. Stiller plays the tightly wound and by-the-book Starsky whilst Wilson plays the cool and loose-moraled Hutch. It’s also the thing buddy cop movies have been know for: pair up two opposites and watch as they eventually work out their differences and capture the bad guy. It’s nothing too out of the ordinary but the pair work so well together now that it doesn’t matter.
Most surprisingly, of course, is the revelation that is Snoop Dogg as Huggy Bear. Nobody would ever have described Snoop as a great actor but he does pretty well in the role. Yes, some of his stuff is a bit wooden but he offers some genuinely funny moments. Although, for my personal tastes, it is Will Ferrell’s Big Earl who offers the most memorable moment. The two cops go and visist Earl in prison and, in order to get him to talk, pretend to be sexy dragons to get him off. It’s a moment that absolutely killed me when I first saw the film and is something I reference far too regularly. Ferrell may be a tiny part of the film but, as is so often the case, he is definitely the greatest.
When it comes down to it, Starsky and Hutch isn’t really that inspiring a film but, thanks to the cast and a fairly charming script, it manages to update the tired television show into a modern film. The narrative is so flimsy it could break in a slight breeze but there can be no denying that the gags keep coming. Not all of them land as successfully as they’d like but you can’t fault it on sheer numbers. This is a quantity rather than quality kind of situation and, in spite of everything, it works. It’s not the greatest Frat Pack movie ever made but it’s still up there. I may not have watched it with as much regularity as Zoolander but it’s memorably enough to make me go back every now and then.
Jason Bateman is another one those frustrating actors who will agree to appear in any old piece of shit despite being incredibly good. It’s finally getting to the point where the high points don’t mean as much and might as well be flukes. Watching him in films like Horrible Bosses (2011), The Change-Up (2011) and The Switch (2010) it is hard to believe it is the same man who excelled in the likes of Juno (2007) and Arrested Development. The major problem with his latest film, Identity Theft is that it appears good on paper thanks to Bateman’s presence and that of his co-star Melissa McCarthy. After her scene stealing role in Bridesmaids (2012) McCarthy is pretty hot Hollywood property and any film starring this much comic potential sounds as though it can’t fail.
As those shrewd few out there may be able to tell, Identity Thief concerns itself with the slightly au fait topic of identity theft. McCarthy plays a trashy con artist who lives the life of luxury in Florida thanks to the naive victims she manages to dupe. The opening scene sees her easily gain access to the personal information of Bateman’s accountant Sandy Bigelow who enjoys a simple existence in Denver with his wife (Amanda Peet) and his two daughters. A happy life that is troubled by his selfish boss (Jon Favreau).
After finally having enough of their awful situation, Sandy’s colleagues take matters into their own hands and start their own company. Being drawn in by the promise of a better salary and a better title, Sandy’s life finally seems perfect. Until, that is, he begins to find himself in financial trouble and fighting criminal charges for skipping a court date. Of course, it takes the police no time at all to discover that they have the wrong man but apparently that is all the help they can offer.
For that is the major flaw of Identity Thief. Whilst normal people would turn to the proper authorities to help them solve this type of problem, Sandy instead takes the vigilante route and chases the woman who is ruining his life to Florida. Buoyed on by his new boss’ unwillingness to sympathise with his situation, his plan is to track her down and somehow convince her to come back with him to unwittingly give the police a taped confession of her crime. Now you mention it, that does sound much easier than waiting for the police to do what they’re supposed to.
Written by Craig Mazin, who has two Scary Movie sequels, two sequels to the infuriatingly popular The Hangover, and Superhero Movie as evidence of his credentials, Identity Thief‘s script is one of the stupidest, laziest and most confused film plots to come out of Hollywood recently. Playing out as a weird mash-up of Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Midnight Run, we must follow the predictable plot of an odd couple trying to make their way across America whilst dealing with all of the obstacles that get in their way.
Mazin was clearly a little out of control during his writing process as he never really knows when enough is enough. He keeps breaking off from the already dull and totally flawed main plot to add unnecessary and unfinished subplots to bring up his running time. It wasn’t enough that he shoves two polar opposites in a car to see what mayhem ensues but we have to introduce grieving yet kinky cowboys, sadistic bounty hunters and dangerous gangsters out for revenge at the behest of their incarcerated mob boss. This slows down the narrative and adds nothing in terms of drama, action or laughs.
In fact, laughs is one of the majors things that this comedy is missing. Any attempts to find the humour in this awful scenario are painful and clumsy. There’s nothing clever here and everything just falls back to childish name-calling and digs about weight and appearance. I don’t know if Mazin thought hearing people mock Sandy for having a ‘girl’s name’ repeatedly would somehow make it funny but it just made me feel as though comedy had stepped back a few decades. I’m pretty easy to please on the old comedy front and can never resist a chuckle when someone falls over in front of me. However, I spent most of this film stoney faced and incredibly bored. Had it not been for the energetic and committed performances of the two leads Identity Thief would have nothing going for it.
McCarthy and Bateman do the best that they can but the characters they are given leave much to be desired. Bateman plays his typical dry, straight man but with the added bonus of being a pretty awful guy on top. It’s hard to put yourself on Sandy’s side when he’s just a fairly arrogant and mean accountant that’s just bent out of shape that his own stupidity lead to this situation.
To her credit, McCarthy throws herself into the role and brings life to an underdeveloped character. She is the only potential source of comedy and on no less than three occasions brought a slight smirk to my face. However, it is hard to understand what we are supposed to think about Diana, as she wishes to be known for most of the film. She flits between obscene, unrepentant criminal and emotionally scarred orphan who we are supposed to care about because she’s lonely. You don’t care for either of the two and there is never an opportunity where you know who to cheer for. Although, the two are both experts at their particular brand of comedy (and more often than is necessary drama) and work pretty well together. Had they been offered a better script and a tighter concept this could have been an altogether better film.