Greg Eichelberger reviews "American Made"

Greg Eichelberger
Staff Writer

Early on, this production was threatened to be overwhelmed by the deaths of two stunt pilots and the families of whom placing some blame on Tom Cruise, but that seems to have subsided. And even though the facts are played with fast and loosely, here Cruise's energetic performance gives the story of the late CIA pilot/drug and gun runner Barry Seal (who was recruited by the CIA to provide reconnaissance on the burgeoning communist threat in Central America and the "freedom-fighting" Contras who opposed those reds).
And while the film, directed by Doug Limon ("The Wall"), often devolves into a "Casino" meets "The Wolf Of Wall Street" (with constant explanatory narration of a true story, plus, a bitter and attractive blonde wife), but Tom Cruise's hyper, vibrant acting brings the lead character to life and makes for an entertaining time in the cinemaplex.
After two sub-par performances, "Jack Reacher 2: Never Look Back"and "The Mummy," Cruise obviously enhances the real Seal (although to have accomplished all he did during the late 1970s, mid 1980s, the man HAD to be an amazing personality) and his adventures to an almost giddy, no-holds barred adventure and makes smuggling, war, drug addiction and murder a light and breezy look back at the often goofy '80s.
Introduced as a top pilot for Trans World Airlines (TWA) and with a title card that reads: "based on a true lie," Seal is recruited by a CIA analyst, Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson, "Mother!"), to use his flying skills to photograph hot spots in South and Central America (El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia and Nicaragua). He a good photographer, but a better pilot, so he draws attention to himself from the likes of Gen. Manuel Noriega and members of the fledging Medellin Cartel.
He becomes a bag man for the Panamanian dictator, trading CIA cash for info on the country's Leftish organizations, while the latter wants to utilize his aeronautics to bring cocaine to the American southern coast.
Meanwhile, it's now 1980 and Barry's wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright, the horrible "Walk Of Shame" and the even worse "21 and Over"), and his nondescript children are forced to move from Louisiana in the middle of the night when he is busted in a raid by the Colombian army. Settling in in Arkansas, Barry is given a farm and a small airport and is instructed by Schafer to now deliver captured firearms to the Contra rebels, who, incidentally, are portrayed as drunken, rock stupid backwoods jungle bumpkins with no desire to fight for their "freedom" or anything else, for that matter.
The assignments get more and more complicated as Seal (and soon several other pilots) began not only to run the guns, pay off Noriega and deliver the drugs, but now they're asked to bring some of the Contras to Arkansas for training (although most of these leave the camp and blend into the countryside).
Another complication is that the cartel now wants guns to fight the government and then Lucy's redneck brother, J.B. (Caleb Landry Jones, the upcoming "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"), who discovers that there are bags upon bags stuffed with money all over the Seals' property. Of course, since he's a peckerwood, he steals some of it and buys an AMC Gremlin (of all things). Barry and Lucy are now living high on the hog and the currency keeps rolling in, despite J.B. pick-pocketing a few bucks here and there.
Of course, we know this cannot last and, by 1983, the DEA, ATF, FBI and even the Arkansas State Police converge on the farm and take Barry into custody. He is saved — again — by his government connections, this time the intervention of then-Gov. Bill Clinton. The Satanically impish Schafer now demands that Seal fly to Colombia and take photos of the members of the cartel unloading drugs or face decades in prison. And when Marine Col. Oliver North (Robert P. Farrior in his debut) releases the photos (which include Seal himself), we all know what's coming.
Cruise plays Seal as cocky and ambitious, smart enough to know the angles, but not smart enough to get in so far over his head that he essentially buried.
He survives time after time, but after crossing the drug kingpins, he must face the inevitable.
Liman, who also directed Cruise in “Edge of Tomorrow” (as well as its forthcoming sequel) takes it all in stride and makes "Made In America" a lot of fun with a little skewered history included to boot.
Grade: B