'American Made' flies high with 80s drug trade thrills

PHIL ON FILM

TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) - If you find yourself staying up way too late binging "Narcos," you'll find it as a gateway drug to the equally addicting "American Made." 

Like the Netflix obsession, director Doug Liman's film is soaked in 1980s nostalgia, as well as the make-the-rules-up-as-they-go chaos of the War on Drugs. Lines between the good and bad guys were blurred with lines of white powder. 

Tom Cruise plays Barry Seal, a TWA pilot recruited by the CIA to fly recon missions over drug-producing areas of South America. He quickly starts pulling double duty by working for the drug cartels and flying cocaine back into the U.S. 

Affable, clever and productive, Seal manages to stay in the good graces of his conflicting employers, racking up stockpiles of cash while remaining a half-step out of the reach of the law.

Cruise embraces the role with rambunctious, devil-may-care joy that lends itself to priceless moments of frenzied improvisation, such as a scene in which he crash-lands a plane and winds up covered in cocaine, slipping cash to a neighborhood teen so he can pedal a bike to escape the scene.

As he gets in deeper and deeper -- forced to keep pace on an ever-quickening treadmill with a rising incline -- there's a "Donnie Brasco" sense of relentless stress that races the pace to fever pitch.

Liman, no stranger to fevered cinematic energy with the likes of "Go," "The Bourne Identity" and "Jumper," keeps what could be a darker story light and breezy. The sacrifice is that the bones Seal's true story is forced to bend to the needs of drama, and Cruise's charisma tends to make Seal's life of crime seem silly and consequence-free.

Accept "American Made" as a fictionalized comic book-like caper and you'll be able to enjoy its thrills, chills and spills. The film's high may be fleeting, but it provides quite the buzz while it lasts.

RATING: 3 stars out of 4.

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