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Review: 'Supermensch' Mike Myers' affectionate tribute to talent manager Shep Gordon

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LOS ANGELES, Calif. - Making his debut as a documentarian with a subject obviously close to his heart, Mike Myers plants a sloppy kiss on an entertainment industry maverick whose management savvy boosted the careers of an eclectic range of artists in "Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon." As the title suggests, this lively portrait is as much about the subject's humanity as his skill at making deals or shaping careers. That duality explains how the same guy who sent a live chicken to its death onstage at an Alice Cooper concert can also end up brewing Tibetan yak butter tea for the Dalai Lama.

Both those anecdotes are shared on-camera, and the loquacious Gordon is an inveterate raconteur whose interviews benefit from his warm rapport with Myers. The two met in 1991 while negotiating the use of a song by Cooper in "Wayne's World." Myers reveals that when he fell into a funk some time after, he asked to go stay a few days at Gordon's house on Maui; he ended up being cared for there by his friend for two months.

That indebtedness might suggest a strictly laudatory view, and indeed "Supermensch" is very much a celebration. But Gordon comes across as a refreshingly candid man who feels no compulsion to varnish the truth.

Gordon fell into music management by chance after moving to Los Angeles straight out of college.

His early clients included Pink Floyd for a mysteriously brief nine days, but the key figure was definitely Cooper. After tanking in Los Angeles on a bill with the Doors and then being ejected from a venue where he was meant to open for Ike and Tina Turner, Cooper was whisked by Gordon back to his native Detroit. There they honed Cooper's ghoulish vaudeville show of violence, sex and rebellion, based on the principle that anything parents hate, kids will love.

Even if the densely packed material is a little too breathless in its pacing, this section is enormously entertaining. Cooper's stage antics are shown in fun clips that feature the shock-rocker performing in a straitjacket, naked under clear plastic, or submitting to onstage execution by hanging, electric chair or guillotine.

The extensive focus on Gordon's work with Cooper points up the strange juxtaposition of that artist alongside one of his other major successes of the '70s, Anne Murray. Having trouble booking the white-bread Canadian country-pop singer onto NBC's "The Midnight Special," Gordon upped her hipster credibility by having her photographed with Cooper's drinking club, the Hollywood Vampires, which included John Lennon, Harry Nilsson and Mickey Dolenz.

Evidence surfaces throughout the film of Gordon's compassion and personal integrity. This is underscored by his eventual fatigue with the "what you are, not who you are" aspect of Los Angeles culture. There's a sad irony in the fact that after working most of his life to increase the fame of his clients, he comes to reject fame as something fundamentally unhealthy.

While Gordon is honest about the limited duration of his relationships and marriages, a few more probing questions in that area might not have been amiss. Instead it's more or less shrugged off as too much time spent looking after other people's lives at the expense of his own.

Stuffed with tasty archive footage, photographs and the occasional knowingly cheesy re-enactment of a key episode, the documentary is brisk and engaging but feels somewhat scattered. Myers' inexperience as a filmmaker shows in its choppy narrative. A seasoned director might perhaps have traced a more robust through-line in Gordon's gradual transition from the 1970s hedonist wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with "No Head No Backstage Pass" to the spiritual middle-aged BuJew yearning for a child. But the film concludes on a poignant note with the disclosure that he hasn't yet given up hope.

"Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon," a Radius release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "language, some sexual references, nudity and drug use." Running time: 85 minutes.

MPAA rating definition for R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

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