In American Made, pilot Barry Seal is working his own triangle trade and having the time of his life.

Ditto for Tom Cruise, who has the most fun he’s had on screen in a while, playing this amoral scoundrel with a twinkle in his eye.

Audiences haven’t seen Cruise glide through a role with such unabashed glee since Rock of Ages, portraying the dazed and confused rocker and Axl Rose clone Stacee Jaxx, and perhaps as foul-mouthed studio executive Les Grossman in the satirical Tropic Thunder.

Guided by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Ultimatum), American Made melds genres providing drama with a comedic bent peppered with a touch of irony.

Seal is a bored TWA pilot, the youngest in history in fact, who chucks it all one day when the CIA comes to him with a proposition. Mysterious agent Schaefer offers him a top-of-the-line plane and all he has to do is fly through Central America, risking life and limb, taking photos from it.

A gringo with an expensive plane flying regularly to Central America eventually acquires a rep, and for Barry that means coming to the attention of three gentlemen who’d love nothing more than a nice safe way to deliver their cocaine to America’s hungry market.

Being the entrepreneurial sort and basically unscrupulous, Barry agrees to make deliveries for what would become the Medellin Drug Cartel and soon the cash is pouring in. But wait, there’s more. When he gets jammed up making a delivery for his new friends in Colombia, Schaeffer comes to him with a deal he’d best not refuse.

It sends him fleeing his Texas home to Arkansas to a new life with his own airport.

What are the terms? He has to run guns for President Ronald Reagan’s government to the Contras in Nicaragua. After several trips, he soon learns that the last things the Contras want are guns. They’d rather have money. And soon Seal’s Colombian friends re-enter the picture, allowing Barry to assist in building a mini-army, a drug cartel and the dinky Arkansas town where he lives.

Based on a true story, it’s not difficult to figure out this will unravel, but watching it and Cruise’s performance in the process offers much enjoyment.

As for Liman’s direction? He deftly balances the drama with the humor, which is less outright comedy and more observational humor about the ridiculousness of Seal’s situation. But his greatest feat may be reminding Cruise of just how good he can be.

That’s a win for all of us.

Reach George M. Thomas at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com.