tek's rating: meh and three quarters, I guess

Cloak & Dagger (PG)
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Caution: this review may ruin your fond memories of a classic movie from your youth. Sorry about that.

Let's see. I suppose first I should say I was a bit torn about where to include this review. Could have gone under something like "spy flicks" or "action/adventure" or "family" or... I dunno. I wanna go with "coming of age" because for me, the best part of the film was when the main character actually learned an important lesson about life, and started to grow up a little (and there's also the token mention of his dealing with the recent death of his mother). On another subject, I should say that this came out in 1984, when I guess I would have been around 8 or 9, but I don't think I heard of it until years later. I finally watched it in 2012 (at the ripe old age of 36), and now I don't remember exactly how old I was when I first heard of it. It could've been when I was still a kid, or it might be that I never heard of it til I was an adult. It's also possible that I saw it at some point before now, but I very much doubt it; it definitely would have to have been a long time ago, for me to have forgotten it so completely. But anyway, I'm sure whenever it was that I first heard of the movie, it was probably something that sounded interesting to me. (Or maybe it looked lame to me. Again, my memory sucks.) But I've always liked the phrase "cloak & dagger," anyway (I daresay I also like actual cloaks and daggers, though sadly I don't have either one). As my final note before moving on to the actual review, I should say I suspect I would have liked the movie a lot more if I'd actually seen it when I was a kid.

Well, it's set one summer in San Antonio, Texas. There's this 11-year-old kid named Davey Osborne, who likes playing a game called "Cloak & Dagger," with his friend Kim. Actually, the movie starts with a scene of a spy named Jack Flack, doing some spy stuff. But we soon see that was just in the imaginations of Davey and Kim, who were playing like an RPG, while hanging out with an adult friend of theirs named Morris, who apparently runs a store that sells video games and stuff. Including an Atari game which is also called Cloak & Dagger. (I'm not sure whether it was based on the RPG or if that was something the kids made up based on the video game, or what. But there was actually an Atari game by that name in real life, I guess.) Anyway, Davey always wanted to go on real spy missions, or whatever, and one day he gets his wish (but he'll find out it's not nearly as much fun as he imagined). He witnesses a murder, and the victim gives him a "Cloak & Dagger" video game cartridge, which he doesn't want the murderers to get.

Davey immediately tells people what he saw, but by the time they get there, the body is gone and there's no trace of it. (This is pretty unrealistic, since it didn't take that long for security to get to the scene. Also I should say that in spite of a surprising amount of violence throughout the film, there's never any blood, which is totally unrealistic. Well... almost never. The one example I can remember of blood was imaginary, ironically.) So anyway, nobody believes Davey. In fact, his father wants him to see a psychologist or something. Which isn't too extreme, when you consider that Davey also has a habit of conversing with an imaginary friend: Jack Flack. Yes, he actually sees and hears the character from the game (who is played by the same actor as his father... nothing too psychological going on there). For awhile, I myself wasn't sure if the whole murder might have been his imagination, in spite of his having the video game the victim gave him. Even when the killers break into his house the next day, I was never truly sure it was all real until later, when they kidnapped Kim to force Davey to trade the game cartridge for her life.

I don't want to reveal too much more about the plot, except to say Davey has to constantly evade the killers, even after they get the game back. And... there's all sorts of danger for both Davey and Kim (though the latter doesn't have a terribly active role). There's plenty about the movie that's decent, actually. It definitely was scary, and in a lot of ways it was more serious than you'd expect a kids' movie to be. This isn't one of those flicks where the kids are never in any real danger, or where they're particularly skilled or clever. I felt like the bad guys were pretty stupid, and in real life there's zero chance they would have failed as much as they did in the movie. In real life, the kids would have died way before the end. Nevertheless... the kids in the movie were basically just... kids. They were not action heroes, by any stretch of the imagination. The only reason they survived is because that's what the script called for. But in spite of the bad guys constantly failing to notice blatantly obvious things, or being too slow, or making any number of ridiculous mistakes, there was still always the sense that they were this close to killing Davey. For reals.

But there's also plenty about the movie I didn't like. The main thing is that we frequently see Jack Flack actually physically interacting with things in reality, I mean moving objects that Davey wasn't touching. Despite the fact that he was clearly just a figment of Davey's imagination. This irksome factor reached its height when, near the end, one of the villains clearly saw Jack, himself. Davey seemed surprised at that. He said, "He saw you!" to which Jack said something like "I doubt he had the imagination." He seems to be suggesting the bad guy actually didn't see him, but the way he acted, there is no other truly plausible explanation but that he saw Jack... and there's no clear explanation of how that could be. There is, however, something Jack says a bit later... which seriously gave me the impression that he was somehow independent of Davey's imagination. That is... I feel like he was implying that there's something real about imagination in general. As if there could be actual noncorporeal entities of some kind, which take on the roles of imaginary friends in kids' imaginations, possibly leaving those kids when they grow up, and moving on to the next generation of kids, to become their imaginary friends. This is a concept I've seen in other stories, but it tends to be more the focus of the stories than it was here. And such stories tend to be more in the genre of science fiction or fantasy, whereas this movie was more in the realm of realism (however unrealistically the characters acted). But all this is just speculation on my part. Trying to make sense of a plot point that simply doesn't make sense. There were other things that bugged me about the movie, too. Like characters (mainly Davey) suddenly knowing things they couldn't possibly have known unless they read the script. I mean, if one character learned a thing, such as that the game contained secret military information, and that character was alone when he learned it, and at no point had any chance to tell anyone, later on other characters would know it, too, for example. And I can't stress enough how many things there are in this movie that (in some cases probably and in other cases definitely) would not have worked in real life (dropping a kid out of a taxiing airplane, what?!). And on top of all the little (but glaring) things in the movie that just don't make sense... I also just didn't think the acting was very good, from any of the characters, child or adult. (Not that the acting was necessarily bad; it just wasn't good.)

So... I have no desire to ever see the movie again. But I will say that, in addition to appreciating the genuine sense of danger, I also liked the fact that Davey eventually realized he didn't need Jack, after all. He did go back and forth on that a bit (which is surprising when you consider that almost every bit of advice Jack gave him throughout the film was bad), but the very end was heartwarming... even if it also required one last inexplicable (and unexplained) and totally improbable thing happening. Oh, and I should also say... I hope that the growing up Davey does, doesn't mean he has to totally abandon playing games. He should be able to still play them, but stop taking them so seriously, and definitely he'll no longer wish they were real. But I feel like the movie leaves us with the idea that at some point kids should stop playing games. This is not a concept to which young adults of the 21st century will possibly take kindly. Anyway, if you want a movie with exactly the same type of heartwarming moral that is achieved at the end of this movie, I suggest you watch Mary Poppins. It's much more clearly fantasy, much more fun and better acted.... Though everything about it except the moral is completely different so... never mind. Forget I mentioned it.

coming of age index
spy index