Cloak & Dagger reworks the Boy Who Cried Wolf story, but with a modern-day computer angle. In this case, little Davey Osborn is a video game buff; his favorite is one calied Cloak & Dagger. When he plays, he invents a fantasy world, including the spy hero of C&D, Captain Jack Flack.
Davey’s imagination doesn’t turn off when he leaves the keyboard, however. He’s liable to consult Jack Flack about the intricate methods of retrieving a pack of Twinkies from the local junk-food outlet.
One day, while prowling around an office building with his companion in espionage (an 8-year-old girl named Kim), Davey walks smack dab into the middle of intrigue, murder and a secret super-valuable message encoded on a video cassette handed to him by a dying man falling down a stairwell.
Whew. Heady stuff for a little guy not yet out of grade school. Davey hightails it to the authorities and to his father, but nobody believes him. The spies, of course, will do anything to get that casette back.
We’ve got the makings of a good story here. It’s based, very loosely, on a crackerjack 1949 thriller called The Window, although not much is borrowed from that film. (This new film is no relation to the 1946 Gary Cooper movie titled Cloak and Dagger.)
The movie’s true influence comes from Alfred Hitchcock, who so frequently used the situation of the innocent man swept into danger. There are many Hitchcock elements here, including a suspense scene in a national landmark. Hitchcock used Mount Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty, among others; here, it’s the Alamo. There’s a race to head off a ticking bomb, a nicely handled chase across the canals of San Antonio, and a kindly old couple who have the suspicious habit of always being in the right place at the right time.
The director is Australian Richard Franklin, who did time work last year with the unenviable task of making the sequel to Hitchcock’s classic, Psycho. His Psycho II showed respect for the master but a healthy sense of humor, too.
Those attributes show up in Cloak & Dagger, and it’s charming entertainment; but when Franklin invites comparison to Hitchcock, he’s bound to fall short. He does, in a lot of places, most notably in the film’s major theme, which involves the boy and his father establishing a friendship, through the adventure. It’s sweet, but a trifle obvious.
However, Henry Thomas, who was in E.T., carries the film easily. And Dabney Coleman, TV’s delightfully despicable Buffalo Bill, is fine as both the rakish Jack Flack and as Davey’s ineffectual father. In particular, Coleman invests Flack with an off-center, amoral humor that bounces well against the earnest hero.
One of the keys to enjoying the film is the immediate identification with the hero. Let’s face it, every 12-year-old has fantasized about a dangerous adventure like this. That feeling is captured. Despite its eventual shortcomings, Cloak & Dagger should please 12-year-olds of all ages.
First published in The Herald, August 9, 1984
Good of me to assure all those readers who might wonder about this film’s possible relation to an old Fritz Lang picture. Well, it was a different time. I failed to mention that the older couple is played by Jeanette Nolan and John McIntire, the married-in-real-life acting duo who also appeared in Psycho.