Cloak and Dagger [retro review]

“Jack Flack always escapes.”

The Scoop: 1984 PG, directed by Richard Franklin and starring Henry Thomas, Dabney Coleman, and Christina Nigra

Tagline: It’s not just a game anymore.

Summary Capsule: Little boy’s spy fantasies come true in the third world nation of… Texas!

 

Justin’s Rating: Should’ve been called “Parachutes & Submachine Guns”

Justin’s Review: Ray Romano once made the observation that things kids say and think are often considered quite cute and adorable, yet if older folks did or thought the same things, they’d be considered senile and demented. Case in point: kids and their imaginary friends. Unless you were a soulless tyke, you probably had one of these that you toted around until you discovered girls, video games or long division. Seeing a kid talking about “Mr. Wigglesport”, a half-man, half-magical-pig who grants wishes every full moon, is the stuff of light-hearted adult laughter and fond recollections for the past.

When I talk to Mr. Wigglesport in my local Wal-Mart? Even the freaks in the discount aisle edge away and the store employees use the intercom to announce a “Code Marshmallow”.

So I guess imaginary friends are something that you’re supposed to grow out of, yet Davey (Henry Thomas, who looks pretty familiar considering that two years prior he played Elliott in E.T.) still has his, super-spy Jack Flack. Jack Flack is a leather-clad British spook sporting a beret, a pencil-thin moustache, and a penchant for giving Davey absolutely horrible advice. Because of his imaginary friend, Davey stumbles onto some real-life espionage action and stays “in the game” due to Flack’s impeccable advice. Davey’s mild yet adorable mental lapse results in him dodging actual bullets and eschewing the police in favor for putting his friends and family into danger.

We have some further issues with Jack Flack’s imaginary status, seeing as how he’s shown actually moving things physically, being shot and killed by a spy’s machine gun, and since the actor who plays him also plays Davey’s dad. Either Davey subconsciously wanted his dad to be his playmate or Davey hated his dad enough to want to see him die in a hail of bullets. Both possibilities are pretty disturbing.

Parents, if you’re reading this, MRFH highly advises you to publicly murder your child’s imaginary friend, perhaps going so far as to build a gallows in your kitchen with a working trap door. Sure, it might upset your kid now, but if it keeps them from playing “peekaboo” with the KGB (or whatever they are now), then it’s worth it.

Cloak & Dagger is supposedly revered by many children-of-the-80’s who grew up watching this two-hour commercial for an Atari game that didn’t actually release for the home console. I was not among the viewers of this film, back in the day, and back in this day, it’s even more ridiculous than it sounds. It’s very much a “kid flick”, in that adult actors have to look both menacing and grossly incompetent so that our plucky toddler can run circles around them with his Home Alone tactics.

There’s a few twists and turns to the story, as Davey tries to protect an Atari “Cloak & Dagger” video game cartridge that has Top Secret information hidden on it, but nothing you won’t seem telegraphed from a mile away. During his many escapades, Jack Flack appears out of thin air to constantly advise Davey on his next course of action, which includes getting his best friend kidnapped, driving a car despite being unable to see over the steering wheel, and gunning down a spy with a stolen pistol.

This last bit gave me some pause: Davey actually kills a guy, even though it’s in self-defense, and that seems a bit harsh for a movie of this light-hearted caliber. To be fair, Davey seems to take his newfound status as a murderer to heart, and mentally crumples under the weight of it. I foresee many years of therapy for young Davey.

Other than possible nostalgia or a desire to plow through every single 80’s movie known to man (and I am working on it, people), Cloak & Dagger should just retire in peace.

BUY STOCK IN ATARI. THIS, WE COMMAND.

Intermission!

  • Although the movie has gained a reputation for being something of an Atari 5200 commercial, there is a ColecoVision, the 5200’s main competitor, visible in the main room of the Game Keeper. It’s visible at the top of the screen as Davie is collapsing the walkie-talkie’s antenna after talking to Rice.
  • The elderly couple in the film, John McIntire and Jeanette Nolan, both had parts in the original Psycho
  • All spy parachutes should have the American flag boldly printed on them
  • Bad guys have no compunction against punching through doors and windows at risk of their knuckles
  • You think Atari sponsored this movie? I do!
  • A car phone! I remember those!
  • Bad guys also love to wave around pistols in broad daylight at little kids. And shoot at them. Nobody seems to care.
  • Ooh, 3-D vector graphics. Top notch!
  • That kid’s a pretty good driver for his first time. And considering that he can’t see above the steering wheel.
  • Davey’s dad works past midnight and leaves Davey alone all that time?
  • This being a kid flick, no parents are ever useful (except at the end), and likewise the police
  • The bad guy shoots a little cute mouse? OH GEEZ HE’S REALLY BAD!
  • Bad guys talk forever before trying to kill you
  • So does the bad guy actually see Jack Flak? I don’t get what happened there.
  • Kids with a bomb in an airport. That’s… disturbing.
  • This is a remake of the 1949 film The Window.
  • The video game which is central to the movie had already been in development as production of the film began (the game then named “Agent X”); when Atari was consulted to provide a game as an element of the movie, they tweaked “Agent X” and renamed it Cloak & Dagger. Dabney Coleman’s character was then named “Agent X” in the movie. The Cloak & Dagger game screens are mostly from the arcade version, and not the Atari 5200 game console as it would appear in the film. Although an 5200 version of the game was planned, it never was released due to the video game crash of 1983 and eventual sale of Atari. The arcade version of Cloak & Dagger appeared in 1983 prior to the release of the film. Next to the Cloak & Dagger games are boxes for the 5200 version of Tempest. Like the 5200 version of Cloak & Dagger, this game was never released.
  • The interior of the Alamo had to be recreated because they were not allowed to film the inside.

Groovy Quotes

Davey Osborne: Jack Flack always escapes.

Kim Gardener: It’s not fair. Jack Flack always escapes. How does he do it, Morris? I had ten times as many bullets.
Morris: Yeah, but Flack had ingenuity and the contacts, Kim. That’s better than bullets sometimes.

Davey Osborne: Loud and clear. I’ll proceed to the building and you follow me in.
Kim Gardener: This is what I meant by “embarrassing”.

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Creating Rem Lezar
  • The Man Who Knew Too Little
  • Leonard Part 6
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