Under the Radar

Home Video: A Pair of Xmas Not-So-Classics

There's a regular stream of holiday-themed comedy movies in theaters each December, probably in hopes that everyone can still pretend to celebrate Christmas at the point where they're desperate to get out of the house. As R-rated comedies have come back into fashion (thanks, Hangover), a lot of those Xmas movies aren't family-friendly in the least.  When everything goes right, you get a surprise winner like  2015's The Night Before with Seth Rogen, Anthony Mackie and Joseph-Gordon Levitt. When things don't work out as well, you're left with Why Him? (out now on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD and On Demand) and Office Christmas Party (out now on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD, Digital HD and On Demand).

Actually that's not quite fair: Why Him? is close to being a good movie and it might get better with age. Office Christmas Party has some funny moments but the cast is loaded with really funny people who barely get a chance to make an impression.

Why Him?

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Zoey Deutsch (her mom is Leah Thompson from Back to the Future!) is Stephanie Fleming, a Stanford student who hasn't managed to tell her parents back home in Michigan (Bryan Cranston and Megan Mulally) that she's got a boyfriend (James Franco). Or that the boyfriend is a wildly successful Silicon Valley bro named Laird Mayhew. The family learns about Laird via an embarrassing video chat and everyone comes out to California to celebrate Christmas.

Dad owns a failing printing business back home and no one's ready for the life of excess that online millions can buy (celebrity chef Richard Blais shows up for a home-cooked meal, Steve Aoki is the DJ at Laird's house party and Big Bang Theory's Kaley Cuoco identifies herself as the voice behind Laird's in-house digital assistant). Keegan-Michael Key shows up as Laird's flamboyantly German (or maybe Swiss) house manager.

Cranston blusters, Franco is gleefully naive about the world and large and things go very wrong before everyone realizes how much they love Stephanie and learns to get along. It's a formula. We've all seen it. However, this movie was cowritten and directed by John Hamburg, who's best know for writing Meet the Fockers and Zoolander but also wrote and directed the cult classic Safe Men. The script makes a few nods towards the kind of tech-world satire delivered by the HBO series Silicon Valley but mostly it just relies on the (considerable) charm of its cast to carry it through. The jabs probably should be pointier but the charm may win out and give this movie a long life on video and cable.

Office Christmas Party

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This movie was designed to make T.J. Miller bust out of being the obnoxious guy on Silicon Valley and make him a player in movies. He's funny but he's hamstrung with a half-hearted story: irresponsible brother tries to keep annoying sister (Jennifer Aniston) from shutting down his branch of the family business by impressing a potential client (Courtney B. Vance) with a wild office Christmas party.

The cast is loaded. Jason Bateman (Arrested Development, Horrible Bosses) is the #2 guy in the office and Olivia Munn (HBO's The Newsroom, Attack of the Show!) is the company's lead software engineer. There are supporting roles and cameos from Kate McKinnon (SNL, Masterminds), Rob Corddry (Hot Tub Time Machine, HBO's Ballers), Vanessa Bayer (SNL), Randall Park (The Interview, Fresh Off the Boat), Sam Richardson (VEEP, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates), Karan Soni (Deadpool, the engineer guy from those old improving-the-network AT&T commercials), Matt Walsh (VEEP) and Ben Falcone (Bridesmaids, The Boss). And that's not counting the dozen or so up-and-coming comics who hoped this movie was be a big break.

Directors Josh Gordon & Will Speck made the very funny Blades of Glory, but there's just too much traffic here for them to control. What's supposed to be anarchically hilarious is more like a train wreck. Weirdly, Vance (Johnnie Cochran in American Crime Story: The People vs. OJ Simpson, Law & Order: Criminal Intent) and Munn give the most consistently funny performances in the movie and most viewers would go in thinking they're the least funny people listed above.

Also, this seems like the 47th movie that Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston have made together. They should work with some other people. There are plenty of studio comedies that have zero laughs at all. This isn't one of those movies. But you're not likely to remember it tomorrow if you watch it tonight.

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