I had to put 1984 in parentheses because there is a recent Freeform show beased on the 1980s Marvel Comics series and I didn’t want to get anyone confused. Not like anyone’s reading this anyway.
So this is one in a genre of kid adventure movies from the 1980s that puts someone around the age of ten years old in an extraordinary or life-threatening situation. When I was a kid, I ate up movies like this, going to see or renting stuff like The NeverEnding Story, Flight of the Navigator, The Goonies, Russkies, The Rescue, D.A.R.Y.L., and Monster Squad. I am sure that at some point or another across all of my blog posts and podcast episodes, I’ll get to most or all of these because they really kick my nostalgia into gear.
Unfortunately, that’s all a movie like Cloak & Dagger is going to do because as much as I enjoyed watching this movie, I did it because as I was watching it I remembered why I repeatedly rented it from the video store when I was a little kid. Because it’s one of those movies that only kids can suspend disbelief for.
And before I proceed any further, I have to give a shout out to Todd at The Forgotten Filmcast. A number of years ago, on episode 19 of his show, he covered this and it inspired me to put it on the Netflix DVD queue. It’s only because movies languished in the DVD queue for a generation that I’m finally getting to it. You can listen to the episode here.
So the plot is that Henry Thomas (yes, Elliott from E.T.) plays Davey, a kid with a dad in the Air Force who is rarely ever around and an imaginary action hero friend named Jack Flack (both played by Dabney Coleman). Davey and Jack are always on secret missions, during which he’s often accompanied by Kim (Christina Nigra, who I remember as Evie’s best friend on Out of This World). Usually it involves pretend play or making everyday errands more exciting. One day, Morris (William Forsythe), who runs the video game store in the mall, sends them on an errand because they’re annoying him and they wind up witnessing a murder. The victim gives them an Atari cartridge (and I believe it’s an Atari 5200 cartridge–there’s a whole item about it in the IMDb trivia) called Cloak & Dagger. Hidden in the cartridge are plans for a secret Air Force bomber. It seems that Davey has accidentally stumbled onto a spy ring’s secret stealing operation.
This is where things go into high adventure as Jack appears at Davey’s side to help him through the “game he’s playing”. Of course, this isn’t a game and people are literally trying to kill him. This is where the adult movie viewer in me thinks about how this is unrealistic and definitely unbelievable while the kid in me thinks about how cool it is to be running around saving the country like we would pretend in my friends’ backyards. And yet I could probably re-watch The Goonies and not have that internal dissonance.
Then again, The Goonies has an element of fantasy to it because even though it is grounded in “reality”, it’s about sunken pirate treasure and is instantly cartoonish in a way. The NeverEnding Story is literally about a kid being sucked into a fantasy book. Cloak & Dagger is about assassins trying to kill a ten-year-old boy in the middle of San Antonio and that ten-year-old boy actually killing a couple of them (sorry, spoiler alert). I appreciate the “shot on location” aspects of the film (only because I’m so tired of the unreal feeling of movies shot through various filters) and there are some genuinely good twists (the reveal of the identities of the big bads in the film, one of whom is missing two fingers, is done well), but the actors’ performances are what makes this movie flirt with decency. Coleman is really solid as both Davey’s dad and Jack, which is remarkable considering he did not get along with the director; and Thomas continues to toe the line of being a kid you really care about and being a whiny little shit. In fact, Henry Thomas could give kid actors a master class because he was exceptional in anything he did in the Eighties even if the material wasn’t.
I was the perfect age for Cloak & Dagger when I first saw it on video. Viewing it again at 43, it doesn’t hold up (although I’m kind of thinking of doing a podcast episode on “latch key kid adventure movies”). This one isn’t easy to come by on streaming without paying extra money for it. I actually found it for free streaming on Xfinity because at one point the deep cable channel Movieplex was showing it. Otherwise, it’s available through a Netflix DVD subscription and maybe an Amazon rental. Really, though, it’s only worth it for the Eighties kid nostalgia.
Watch or Skip?