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Wed08052020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

The messed-up life of pilot Barry Seal gets a movie that’s not messed up enough in American Made, a sufficiently entertaining film that plays it a little too safe. Drug cartels and Iran Contra are played for laughs—in a story that should not be very funny.

The movie winds up being moderately enjoyable thanks to Tom Cruise, who sweats it out in the lead role. While his work here may not be his best, it’s miles better than what he put forth in The Mummy, that shit-storm that damaged his career this summer. Director Doug Liman (who teamed with Cruise on the sci-fi masterpiece Edge of Tomorrow) rips off Catch Me If You Can, The Wolf of Wall Street, Goodfellas, Blow and many others in telling the story of the notorious TWA pilot-turned-pawn for the CIA.

Inspired by Seal’s true story (and, yes, some of the more outlandish stuff depicted in the film actually happened), the movie starts with Seal grinding out flights for TWA—smuggling the occasional box of Cuban cigars, perhaps, but otherwise simply trying to support a family that includes his wife, Lucy (Sarah Wright).

During a layover, Seal is approached in a bar by Monty (Domhnall Gleeson). After a brief discussion, Barry is given an opportunity to fly arms to Central America as an unofficial courier for the U.S. (He’s set up with a fake flying company as a front.) The gig soothes the adrenaline junkie in Seal, but it doesn’t pay enough.

That’s where smuggling drugs for the Medellin drug cartel comes in, something Seal starts doing on the side. The movie depicts Pablo Escobar (Mauricio Mejia) and Jorge Ochoa (Alejandro Edda) almost as fun-loving goof balls, and Seal becomes regular pals with them. Along the way, Seal’s operation expands to include an entire airport in Mena, Ark., on property large enough to fit a training ground for the Contras. Seal basically has his hand in everything.

The movie is a whirlwind of activity, but it skimps on some of the details that could have made it more than just a silly blast. The likes of Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr. are reduced to stock news footage (although W. makes a brief appearance, portrayed by an actor).

One element clearly stolen from Goodfellas is the tactic of breaking the fourth wall to narrate. Liman is able to pull this off through a series of videotapes Seal makes when he’s on the run; bits are used throughout the movie as story-framing devices. It’s a way to help out the viewer with all the different plot threads and time jumps going on.

This story might’ve played better as an HBO or Netflix miniseries than as a big motion picture. It feels far too slick for the story, and needed some more meat on the bone. A good 10-hour running time probably wouldn’t even be enough to cover everything into which Seal got himself.

Cruise brings his reliable movie-star prowess to the project, and while the movie might get a little messy, it is never boring. That’s because Cruise, as he often does, puts his everything into the role. Gleeson is decent in his fictional representation of the CIA; he provides some of the movie’s bigger laughs. Wright does all she can with a thinly written role.

American Made can’t seem to decide whether it’s an action movie, a dark comedy or a dramatic re-telling of a scandalous life. It keeps up the balancing act admirably until its final minutes, where everything crashes down on a discordant note. Anybody who knows anything about Seal knows things will eventually take a dark turn, but the film’s final tonal shift is handled poorly.

Still, you can do worse at the movie theater than seeing a cocaine-coated Cruise paying some kid for a bicycle and then riding it down the street, with the cocaine leaving a smoky powder trail. American Made is not a waste of time … but it is passable moviemaking, and nothing more.

American Made is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Tom Cruise must’ve had that Risky Business grin from ear to ear when he first read the script for Edge of Tomorrow: He had to know he had a magnificent movie on his hands.

Watching Edge of Tomorrow is like watching James Cameron’s Aliens or J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek for the first time. It provides many surprises, is often scary, has a lot of laughs and always feels original. This is one of those science-fiction movies that truly brings something new to the genre.

In the future, Earth is fighting a crazed, vicious alien force that is shredding armies. Cruise plays Cage, an armed-forces officer who serves as a public-relations man and doesn’t necessarily belong on a battlefield. After a publicity tour, he sits down with a hard-nosed general (a cold Brendan Gleeson)—and finds out that he is going into battle.

Cage is justifiably terrified, and his first taste of war doesn’t go well. While he does score a couple of decent hits, he is killed in an especially gruesome fashion. For reasons I won’t give away, he instantly wakes up after his death, and is transported back to a moment shortly after his meeting with the general.

Cage is in a seriously messed up situation.

He starts repeating the same day, dying every time. Cage does his best to change that outcome, but he always winds up meeting a grisly death and waking up back in the same place. He eventually comes into contact with Rita (Emily Blunt), the military’s poster girl for the perfect soldier. By repeating days with Rita, Cage starts to build himself up as a soldier, discover secrets about the enemy, and increase longevity for himself and mankind.

It’s not usually cool to laugh when somebody dies, but you will laugh at some of the ways in which Cage meets his end. Cruise embraces the comedic elements of the situation, but he and director Doug Liman (Swingers, The Bourne Identity) keep things away from total silliness. At its core, Edge of Tomorrow is a well-oiled, sometimes-horrific thrill machine that never stalls out or missteps.

Cruise is becoming a major modern-science-fiction force. War of the Worlds, Minority Report, Oblivion and now this movie have established the guy as a sci-fi legend. The same can almost be said for Blunt, who occupied a major role in Looper, another terrific science-fiction film.

Cruise and Blunt are great together. Whether their characters are shooting each other in the head, or getting themselves irreparably bashed up during training sessions, they offer unyielding professionalism and commitment.

Another factor that gives the movie a nice Aliens vibe is the presence of Bill “Game Over!” Paxton as Cage’s ruthless commanding officer. It’s a great role that allows Paxton to take the crazy eyes out of that box in his sock drawer. Remember how edgy Paxton used to be? This movie gives him back some of that edge.

Edge of Tomorrow works on so many levels that I’m going to dare to call it a masterpiece. It’s also one of the year’s funniest movies: It’s not a comedy by definition, but when it gets laughs, it gets big ones.

As for that ending, it might feel a little strange at first, but think about it on the way home. It’s actually quite brilliant.

If you are a Tom Cruise hater, bury that hate. See Edge of Tomorrow—and discover how a blockbuster can be smart, funny, thrilling and totally insane at the same time.

Edge of Tomorrow is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews