Tom Cruise’s multimillion-dollar megawatt smile is front and center in “American Made.”
The flash and gleam of his pearly whites send the message that his character, Barry Seal, is a scamp, a scalawag, a rascal, a rogue. He’s a devil-may-care dude whose devilments include drug-running, gunrunning and money laundering.
It’s all fun and games until someone ends up on the wrong end of a gun — or a car bomb.
A true story, though not really. Seal existed all right, but Cruise and his creative collaborators — director Doug Liman (“Edge of Tomorrow,” also starring Cruise) and screenwriter Gary Spinelli — have taken significant liberties with his story. Which is to say they made a bunch of stuff up.
Seal, a skilled and fearless pilot, did indeed fly mass quantities of cocaine to the United States for the Medellin cartel back in the ‘80s, and he had shady involvements with the CIA during the Contra War.
But as to the nuts and bolts and ins and outs of what actually went down, well, the moviemakers’ imaginations run wild.
Cruise and company wanted to make “American Made” a fun and often funny ride, but there’s something oddly joyless about the whole enterprise. Its overweening cynicism leaves a curdled aftertaste.
There’s more than a whiff of vanity project with respect to “American Made” in that it affords Cruise, an avid pilot, ample opportunities to climb into the cockpit and do a lot of the flying — and there is a lot of that — himself.
On the ground, things proceed briskly as Seal gets up close and personal with cartel bigwigs who include Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejía), a CIA spook (Domhnall Gleeson) and even Oliver North (Robert Farrior), a key figure in the Contra scandal.
Everyone is a corrupt double-dealer, and Seal blithely swims among these sharks, barely acknowledging the real perils of his situation. He’s not entirely blind, however, noting along the way with a rueful grin, “I do tend to leap before I look.”
He’s cheerfully greedy, and when the cash flows in at such a rate that he’s frantic to find places to bury suitcases full of it, that’s where a lot of the humor comes in.
☆☆ 1/2 out of 5
Cast: Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright Olsen, Jesse Plemons, Caleb Landry Jones.
Director: Doug Liman
Running time: 1:55
Rated: R for language throughout and some sexuality/nudity