Crime pays and sometimes can be really fun. American Made, the true crime story from director Doug Liman and starring Tom Cruise, opens in wide release this week. It’s a giant blast of energy that bring an unrelenting sense of retro fun to the true crime genre.

Barry Seal (Cruise) is a bored TSA pilot and small-time smuggler grinding out routes around the country to support his wife Lucy (Sarah Wright) and their family. One day he’s confronted in Canada about his Cuban cigar smuggling by CIA agent Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson). Schafer doesn’t want to bust him, but instead wants to recruit him to begin flying aerial reconnaissance missions over South America for the government.

This role eventually evolves into Seal’s becoming a courier between the government and Manuel Noriega, delivering money in exchange for information. Before long, Seal is crossing paths with the Medellin Cartel and enters the world of drug smuggling – sneaking dozens of pounds of cocaine into the United States with every new flight.

Things don’t go completely to plan for Seal as he winds up in caught in the crossfire of several gunfights and ultimately in Colombian prison. Rescued again by his guardian angel Schafer, Seal begins adding gun running to his drug smuggling, arming the Contras in Nicaragua and ultimately setting up a cottage industry of drug smuggling, gun running and other government-backed operations on a small airstrip in Arkansas.

American Made doesn’t let off the throttle from the moment it takes off. It shoots right into Barry Seal’s outlaw world without wasting a second and layers on crazy escalation after crazy escalation without a moment’s hesitation. The film’s chief concern is fun. It doesn’t seek to make any political statements or unmask the horrors of the drug trade. Instead, it’s all about putting us in Barry Seal’s co-pilot’s seat for a crazy ride through his crazy rise in the drug trade.

And at the center of that ride is a magnificent performance by Cruise. Played with the perfect sense of humor and devil-may-care attitude, his Barry Seal is somebody you can totally believe becoming a cocaine cowboy of the sky pretty much on a whim and lucking his way into millions of dollars and government protection. It’s a total showcase for Cruise’s charisma and the most fun he’s had at the movies in many years.

In a world before superhero movies were the chief currency at the box office, American Made feels like it might have been a tentpole film: big action, great director and a huge star carrying it with every ounce of his movie stardom. Instead, it feels like a throwback to a time where these type of action films could be more character driven and vehicles for their stars to stretch their limits and deliver something truly memorable.

It’s a good thing Cruise still has enough clout to get a film like this off the ground. It’s as fun of a popcorn flick as you’ll find out there and it feels like in the current blockbuster climate we may have missed this fun ride.

And that would really be a crime.