Messi created Ezequiel Lavezzi’s opener before scoring a stunning free-kick to surpass Gabriel Batistuta’s mark of 54 goals.
Gonzalo Higuain added a second-half brace as Gerardo Martino’s men, who are chasing a first trophy since 1993, reached the final of the competition for the second successive year.
Tournament hosts United States did not have a shot on target as they were outclassed by the favourites to lift the trophy in New Jersey on Sunday. Hearts midfielder Perry Kitchen was an unused substitute for the US who now go into Saturday’s third-place play-off against the losers of the other semi-final between Colombia and Chile.
La Albiceleste, who kept Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria on the bench, were faced with a raucous atmosphere in Houston as USA looked to continue their impressive run, but the home fans were soon quietened.
Only three minutes were on the clock when an Argentina corner was cleared to the edge of the area where an unmarked Messi delivered a sumptuous first-time dink over the defence to Lavezzi, who guided his header over goalkeeper Brad Guzan from six yards.
Messi had his first sight of goal five minutes later when Manchester United defender Marcos Rojo picked him out with a cross from the left, but the Barcelona forward could not steer his effort on target.
Guzan denied Messi in the 15th minute when a poor pass from Michael Bradley set Argentina on a counter attack, which ended with Messi dribbling away from a couple of markers before driving a shot from the edge of the area straight at the Aston Villa goalkeeper.
But Messi was not to be denied his place in the history books for much longer.
After a waltzing run was ended illegally by Chris Wondolowski, Messi picked himself up and curled a stunning free-kick from 30 yards into the top right corner of Guzan’s net in the 32nd minute.
It took him to 55 goals for his country in his 112th appearance.
Argentina were totally dominant in the first half and picked up where they left off after the break.
Five minutes after the restart, Lavezzi brilliantly picked out the run of Higuain, who was denied by Guzan with his first attempt but reacted quickly to poke home the rebound.
Messi was denied a second by a fine save from Guzan down to his right, before the Barcelona star pounced on a loose ball, burst into the area and unselfishly squared for Higuain to slot into an empty net in the 86th minute.
The only negative for La Albiceleste was a freak injury to Lavezzi that forced him off with 26 minutes to go. The Hebei China Fortune winger attempted to bring a ball down on his chest but stumbled backwards over an advertising hoarding and seemingly injured his shoulder.