Tom Cruise is the quintessential all-American male. He is the rock-jawed hero with his dark hair and roguish smile, forever running off — thoughtlessly — to “do” something. Cruise is a man of action, first and foremost. He embodies the idea of “shoot first and ask questions later”; it matters little whether or not the characters he plays actually bear arms or not, maybe because Cruise is a weapon unto himself. All of that grinning charm and explosive energy contained in that compact human package are dangerous.
Which is why his latest film, American Made, is a damned near perfect Tom Cruise vehicle — for good and ill. It is the true story of Barry Seal (Cruise), a bored pilot who starts off working for the CIA (after he’s caught smuggling Cuban cigars into the country) but soon finds himself running drugs and guns during the 1980s and getting involved with the Medellin Cartel as well as the U.S. government’s efforts to undermine Nicaragua’s Sandinista government. As presented by Cruise, Seal is a good old boy, eager for a little fun to spice up the grinding routine. He imagines himself to be a hero with the guts for all the glory he believes is headed his way. Let’s be honest: That’s the real American Dream; not all the hokey pride and principle stuff we’re spoon-fed.
And if you think about it, that’s exactly what Cruise has been selling for most of his career. But maybe it’s time that we pump the brakes and consider whether or not we’re down for the breezy star-powered attraction that director Doug Liman and Cruise are peddling here. Liman definitely knows how to exploit the classic appeal of movie stars — think Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie in Mr. and Mrs. Smith. But in American Made, he and Cruise have concocted a rollercoaster ride that rockets to the heavens on manufactured thrills, then comes crashing down into a swamp of lies, corruption and political scandal that caused such problems as the escalating drug problem that we refuse to honestly discuss. How very American. Thanks, Tom Cruise. (Continuing in theaters) (R) Grade: C-