To the annals of romantic stalker comedies, a genre launched as an industry force by There’s Something About Mary, the appallingly creepy Management adds pretension and may blaze new, jaw-dropping territory: the predatory Beast totally rehabilitates Beauty. Steve Zahn is Mike, a fortysomething bachelor who unclogs toilets and changes the sheets at his parents’ Arizona motel; when Sue (Jennifer Aniston), an industry buyer of dogs-and-cats paintings, checks in, he’s at her door with complimentary garbage wine and a stiff pecker. Before you can wonder if writer-director Stephen Belber is trying to trump Gus Van Sant’s Psycho remake, Sue not only offers him a conciliatory ass-feel (“Touch it and go”), but a fast thrill-fuck in the laundry room between check-out and her car. Through his subsequent cross-country pursuit of Sue, who semi-encouragingly invites him to her weekly soccer game, homeless-outreach missions, and dinner with her BB-gun-toting ex-punk boyfriend (Woody Harrelson) rather than seeking a restraining order, Mike grows through the fine art of preying upon his dream girl, to the point of righteously diagnosing her do-gooder activism as “an excuse to treat yourself like shit.” Zahn, with his jocky ex-fratboy body and sad-sack mug showing crows feet, can almost inject pathos into this sociopathic persona, but he’s not helped by sequences like Mike receiving his mother’s deathbed blessing to win Sue. Margo Martindale, as the motel-keeping matriarch, at least gets to diagnose Aniston’s diffident drifter: “Not a heart of gold…leather, maybe.”
Belber, who adapted his own play into Richard Linklater’s queasy but ambiguously female-empowering Tape, not only proceeds toward the final clinch here with jokey racial window dressing (Brooklyn-accented Chinese-American sidekick, a pit stop in a Buddhist monastery that goes for yuks and feints at enlightenment), but tenderizes monomania with New Pornographers tunes and delivers Princess Mess her longed-for altruistic lifestyle as a gift from the panting motel heir. Why did Aniston co-produce this steep comedown from her far more nuanced amour fou vehicle The Good Girl? What kind of mass-culture industry tries to pluck the heartstrings with foul fantasies like this?