So, has everyone seen the family film about the adventure-seeking little boy, growing up with a single parent during the final years of one of the 20th Century’s most important wars, whose …
So, has everyone seen the family film about the adventure-seeking little boy, growing up with a single parent during the final years of one of the 20th Century’s most important wars, whose imaginary friend and substitute father figure is a military propaganda figure, whom our child protagonist ultimately rejects when he realizes that war is not a game to be glorified?
If you’ve seen Taika Waititi’s “Jojo Rabbit,” you might think you know which movie I’m talking about, but if you read my review of “Jojo Rabbit” last week, then you should recall that there’s another film which fits this description.
The 1984 film “Cloak & Dagger” was intended to tie into the Atari video game “Cloak & Dagger,” released just four months earlier that same year, and yet, what makes it a surprisingly resonant movie is precisely how ineffective it is at promoting the video game which bears its same name.
Henry Thomas, fresh off starring in Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” in 1982, here plays 11-year-old Davey Osborne, living in San Antonio, Texas, in the final years of the Cold War with his Air Force dad Hal, played by Dabney Coleman, who also plays Jack Flack, the fictional hero of the “Cloak & Dagger” video game, a crack commando and super-spy who encourages Davey’s make-believe play just as much as his father discourages it.
Davey and his neighbor Kim (Christina Nigra), a little girl who’s less prone to indulging flights of fancy, are spending their summer hanging out with Morris (a virtually unrecognizable Bill Forsythe, hidden behind a shaggy beard and Coke-bottle glasses), the owner of a game shop at the local mall.
Morris tasks them with running an errand at a tech company in town, and Davey witnesses what he’s convinced was a murder, only the cops can’t find any body, and Davey’s only evidence is a “Cloak & Dagger” video game cartridge that the victim handed him before his death.
Eighties family films tended to come out in favor of encouraging kids to embrace their pretend realities, as when Bastian cast aside his stern father’s admonishments to keep his feet on the ground in “The Neverending Story” (also released in 1984).
At the same time, it’s worth noting that the decade’s movies remained a little leery of letting young people spend too much time with their heads in the clouds, as when Tom Hanks was shown going insane as the result of a Dungeons & Dragons-style roleplaying game in 1982’s “Mazes & Monsters.”
So when the police drop Davey off at his home, it quickly becomes clear that this is not the first time he’s seen things that weren’t necessarily there, as his father patiently but wearily suggests taking him to see a shrink, whom they both already know by name.
Basically, Davey is not okay. Davey has not been okay since his mother died. And with his father as his only remaining parent, “Cloak & Dagger” is in no way subtle about how the dashing, devil-may-care Jack Flack is the man that Davey wishes his well-meaning but stodgy father could be, as Coleman earnestly asserts how “being a hero” often means doing admittedly boring stuff like putting food on the table for your family.
Unfortunately for Davey, this is one instance where his paranoid fantasies are all too real, as the murderers follow him to his home, then proceed to chase him throughout San Antonio, all to obtain the “Cloak & Dagger” cartridge (which contains a secret of its own), to the point that the lives of Davey and everyone he’s close to are expendable.
Again, if I was Atari, I would be less than thrilled by how well this film actually manages to showcase the “Cloak & Dagger” video game, beyond turning it into a Maltese Falcon-style MacGuffin, but if I was the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce, I’d be delighted to see the city’s river boat rides, sunken gardens and, of course, the Alamo featured so prominently in the film’s extended chase scenes.
While the plot remains fairly straightforward, it nonetheless manages to pull the rug out from under you at least a couple of times, especially with a scene that calls into question exactly how imaginary Jack Flack is, when one of Davey’s would-be murderers appears to see the fictional secret agent.
Thomas remains as authentic as he was in “E.T.,” which underscores the seriousness of the moment when he angrily yells at Jack that he doesn’t want to play anymore, and Coleman is doing all sorts of work under the surface in both of his roles, filling Davey’s father with a sad resignation, all while Jack Flack earns Davey’s scorn by becoming ever more gleeful and indifferent toward the rising death toll incurred by their “game.”
The end result is a weirdly mixed message, in which Davey finally grows up, but “Jack Flack always escapes,” in spite of the impossible odds against him.
Perhaps not surprisingly, “Cloak & Dagger” was initially released to theaters on a double-bill with fellow video game film “The Last Starfighter,” which was itself reviewed in The Leader on July 24, 2019, and both films are available to rent or own online.