Wacky ‘American Made’ is a Catch-22 for the 1980s

David James, Universal Pictures

In Universal Pictures’ “American Made,” Tom Cruise reunites with his “Edge of Tomorrow” director, Doug Liman (“The Bourne Identity,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith”), in this international escapade based on the outrageous (and real) exploits of a hustler and pilot unexpectedly recruited by the CIA to run one of the biggest covert operations in U.S. history.

“AMERICAN MADE” — 3½ stars — Tom Cruise, Domhnall Gleeson, Sarah Wright, Alejandro Edda, Jayma Mays; R (language throughout and some sexuality/nudity); in general release

While “Wall Street” gave the image of the 1980s as a suited, slick-haired Michael Douglas in Manhattan, “American Made” gives us the image of a manic Tom Cruise, dusted head to toe in cocaine, carrying a satchel full of cash down a side street after crashing his twin-engine prop plane into a quiet Louisiana subdivision.

Doug Liman’s “American Made” is based on the true story of a former airline pilot who becomes a prolific drug and arms trafficker in the 1980s. Cruise plays Barry Seal, an underachieving TWA pilot who is making a little money on the side smuggling Cuban cigars on his flights. When his actions catch the attention of the CIA in 1978, Seal is offered a job that will take his life on a wildly different course that keeps getting crazier as it goes along.

It’s a little tricky to tell just how much truth or fiction to pull from the “based on a true story” expression that leads the film, but either way, the results are bonkers. Initially, Seal is hired by a covert agent named Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson) to fly surveillance missions over Central America, gathering photos…

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