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Spurlock’s ‘Mansome’ tackles a hairy topic

JasBateman (left) Will Arnett trade grooming tips Morgan Spurlock’s documentary “Mansome” which takes measure today’s modern man.

Jason Bateman (left) and Will Arnett trade grooming tips in Morgan Spurlock’s documentary “Mansome,” which takes the measure of today’s modern man.

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‘Mansome’ ★★★

Paladin presents a doc­umentary directed by Morgan Spurlock. Running time: 84 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for language and some crude material). Opening Friday at the River East.

Updated: June 29, 2012 8:31AM

‘Arrested Development” alums and good buddies Jason Bateman and Will Arnett are facing each other while luxuriating in a spa tub that’s compact enough to have you wondering how exactly they’re positioning their legs.

 The topic of discussion: what it means to be a man. A manly man who takes responsibility for himself. After Arnett comes up with a pretty fair definition, Bateman expresses his envy for Arnett’s growly, masculine voice.

 Sounds like a scene from a Judd Apatow comedy, but Bateman and Arnett are actually playing Bateman and Arnett in “Mansome,” a typically whimsical documentary from the prolific humorist Morgan Spurlock, who has been examining the peculiarities of modern life on TV and in non-fiction films since “Super Size Me,” his fast-food binge experiment from some eight years ago.

 Spurlock’s latest effort is an amusing if slight look at the grooming, preening and stylistic ways of the 21st century man, from a chapeau-wearing twentysomething who freely acknowledges his look is a far-too-important part of his essence to a guy with ZZ Top facial hair who is active in competitive bearding — and yes, there’s such a thing as competitive bearding.

 “Mansome” is concerned mostly with hair. Facial hair, back hair, lack of hair on top of head, hair replacements on top of head, the waxing of hair in places we’d rather not talk about. Spurlock tells us about the sense of identity he gains from his trademark mustache, which has adorned his face for nearly a decade. After Spurlock shaves off the facial hair for charity (and for the movie), his 5-year-old son bursts into tears — but only after Daddy has helpfully pointed out that it’s no longer there. (Dad appeases his teary-eyed son by affixing a fake mustache to his face.)

 We don’t see much of the likable Spurlock after that, as he stays behind the camera for interviews with regular guys and a number of quip-ready celebrities, including the aforementioned Arnett and Bateman (executive producers on the film), who provide a sort of running commentary during a day at the spa; man’s man Adam Carolla, who sits in a garage with muscle cars in the background and wryly notes that a man’s underarms and pubic region can’t distinguish between shampoo and shower gel; Paul Rudd, who slaps himself repeatedly as he talks about the simpler days of Aqua Velva while questioning what the hell “Aqua Velva” even means, and the bushy-bearded Zach Galifianakis, who tells us his father smelled of garlic and diesel fuel, because … well, that explanation is best left to Galifianakis. It’s all very funny and very breezy, though little of this territory hasn’t been explored before.

A pro wrestler takes us through the process of shaving nearly his entire body. (For some reason, wrestlers going back to the Hulk Hogan days really favor that smooth look.) A former geek explains why his look is so important to him. The “beardsman” speaks with great passion about the hideous red growth extending nearly to his belt buckle. And so it goes. One amusing vignette after another, loosely tied together to the larger theme of men preening in ways previous generations never would have imagined.

There’s a certain late-to-the-party aspect to “Mansome,” as if Spurlock has just discovered the metrosexual trend of what, 15 years ago? It’s hardly news that men are spending big bucks on grooming products and are more concerned than ever about their appearance. (To be fair, the film does go anthropological from time to time, pointing out how African tribesman painstakingly decorate their hair and faces, and even certain animal species have “mustaches.”)

 As for Spurlock’s own mini-journey: He’s right. He does look way better with the mustache. Kind of looks like everyone else without it.

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