Management (R)

In this image released by Samuel Goldwyn Films, Steve Zahn, right, and Jennifer Aniston are shown in a scene from, "Management." Photo: AP.

More a training film for budding stalkers than a conventional comedy, Management asks us to accept many impossible things: That a reasonably normal, attractive woman on a business trip would offer to let a creepy motel night manager — you know, someone more or less in the same profession as Norman Bates — touch her butt. That the contact, which occurs shortly after they meet, would lead to a few moments of passion in the laundry room (all that stuff your mother told you about the cleanliness of hotel linen is apparently true). That after the woman flies off to her home across country, the motel manager would decide to buy a one-way ticket and show up at her place of business, sure she’ll be thrilled to see him.

Of course, since these things could never happen without law enforcement intervention, Management isn’t even a good stalker-training film. It’s pretty much a waste of everyone’s time, especially yours. One can only guess what Jennifer Aniston (Sue, the traveling saleswoman with spectacularly poor taste) and Steve Zahn (Mike, the motel manager stuck in quiet Kingman, Ariz.) were thinking when they signed on. Indie comedy, maybe. But Management is not Garden State. It’s Obsessed without the quirk or violence or admission that, yes, we know this is cheesy, but we hope you like it anyway.

The Mike role, in particular, is a puzzle. Long a character actor, Zahn (recently seen in Sunshine Cleaning) makes a bid for quirky romantic leading man here, but the script by first-time director Stephen Belber paints Mike as babbling idiot, a guy so juvenile and dense that he can’t possibly inspire affection. Restraining orders, maybe. That he has stuck around Kingman to help his sick mom (Margo Martindale) and shut-down dad (Fred Ward) is about the best you can say for him.

If the characters had been 15 years younger — Aniston is 40, Zahn 42 — the idea of a naive, socially awkward guy who tries to hit on a woman out of his league might have made more sense. As it is, Mike’s just off-putting. Woody Harrelson fares only slightly better as Sue’s wealthy jerk of a fiance, but James Hiroyuki Liao is genuinely funny as a waiter Mike befriends when he trails Sue to Washington State. He’s a rare delight in this unappetizing, misguided stew of ickiness.

Cast: Jennifer Aniston, Steve Zahn, Woody Harrelson, Fred Ward, James Hiroyuki Liao.

Director/screenwriter: Stephen Belber.

Producers: Marty Bowen, Wyck Godfrey, Sidney Kimmel.

A Samuel Goldwyn release. Running time: 93 minutes. Language. Playing at area theaters.


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