Published: Sun, October 01, 2017
Entertaiment | By Paul Elliott

Weekend Box Office: Tom Cruise's 'American Made' Earns $960K in Previews

Weekend Box Office: Tom Cruise's 'American Made' Earns $960K in Previews

Universal's Tom Cruise actioner "American Made" is heading for a moderate $16 million opening weekend on a $50 million budget, early estimates showed Friday.

Slickness is a virtue in American Made, a cheerfully blistering yarn starring Tom Cruise as real-life-TWA-pilot-turned-CIA-stooge-turned-cocaine-smuggler Barry Seal.

In this telling, Cruise's Seal is so bored flying for TWA circa 1978 that he fakes an episode of turbulence, scaring a cabin full of passengers awake.

But when an actor like Cruise tells us things are about to get insane, we lean forward in our seats instinctively. As the film nears its inevitable conclusion, Barry tries to sum up what he's learned. "You try telling me this isn't the greatest country in the..." At my screening, you could hear a pin drop.

So if you're looking for a 'based on true events' type of movie that sticks to the hardcore facts, you may be disappointed. It's the grubbiest, greasiest vision of bad boys gettin' away with it in recent memory, a glass of sour milk specifically timed to curdle just at the moment you think it might be harmless.

Director Doug Liman ("The Bourne Identity", "Mr. and Mr. Smith") reunites with the star of his excellent 2014 science-fiction drama "Edge of Tomorrow", and the pair don't miss a beat.

It's not quite that, but this bonkers, too-batshit-ridiculous-to-be-made-up story of a going-nowhere commercial airline pilot named Barry Seal, who within the span of a few years finds himself running cocaine north for Pablo Escobar and AK-47s south for the US government, is entertaining enough in its own right. Schafer, played with gleeful sliminess by Domhnall Gleeson, is the quintessential Cruise foil, a paper-pusher in a slick suit who is too cowardly to get his own hands dirty. Barry has an illicit sideline-smuggling Cuban cigars across the border-that has brought him to the attention of the authorities. He parties with Pablo Escobar, among others. But when the Central Intelligence Agency income proves insufficient to support Seal's expanding family, he starts taking on side jobs.

It's nearly enough to forgive the age difference between Cruise and the lovely Sarah Wright Olsen as his wife, as the leggy blonde was born the same year that Cruise exploded with "Risky Business" in 1983. His pretty blonde wife (Sarah Wright) does what all wives of men with lucrative extralegal professions do: pout and protest and then enjoy the mountains of cash with gusto. By the time the elder Liman was among those questioning Oliver North about his role in government-sanctioned drug trafficking on live TV, Seal had already been dead for more than a year. "His strangely aging visage is as compelling as ever; at times it looks as if he's being physically dragged toward his 60s against his will" and "it serves the film well", she writes.

While that feverish formula can render "American Made" hard to follow at times and creates a few turbulent patches, the intent and underlying message are crystal clear - conveying the unusual bedfellows and moral corner-cutting that characterized USA adventures in Central America during this era, in the name of combating the twin evils of drugs and communism. Barry Seal's biography runs entirely on Cruise control.

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