Cloak and Dagger and the perils of imaginary friends
In a lot of ways, loving a bad movie is a lot like having an imaginary friend. Fans of SURF NINJAS MUST DIE who attempt to describe the film's plot to their co-workers will receive the same blank, uncomprehending stare as if they were talking about the latest tea party they shared with Harvey, the lovable 6-foot tall bunny-shaped pooka. Even when Hot Topic rolls out the latest batch of novelty T-shirts inspired by cult films — effectively whoring out the special relationship you once shared with your favorite under-the-radar movie — it's the truly obscure film that will always be there to comfort you and you alone.
And just as one can never truly get rid of an imaginary friend, despite the best efforts of psychologists and priests, a fondly remembered bad movie can never be completely forgotten. CLOAK AND DAGGER is one such film: a refugee from the '80s that refuses to die. Despite the herculean efforts of a substandard script and questionable movie logic, CLOAK AND DAGGER will stain the memory of all who watch, leaving behind a hazy impression of something truly special.
Richard Franklin directed the 1984 family adventure film with equal parts ingenuity and sloppiness. Henry Thomas (the young star of E.T.) stars as Davey Osborne, an 11-year-old who has accumulated a serious set of psychological problems in his short life. With a dead mother and a work-obsessed father waiting for him at home, Davey has chosen to envelop himself in the fantasy world of spy vs. spy.
Led by his imaginary friend Jack Flack, Davey embarks on what begins as a harmless bit of escapist role-playing that quickly turns into a real-life case of espionage involving the smuggling of classified information through an Atari video game cartridge. With a story by Cornell Woolrich, the film's plot is more often than not a sloppy version of the writer’s own REAR WINDOW.
Sure, the film is written for the same children who were content to spend hours on their Atari navigating frogs through the dangers of a busy freeway, but the mystery of CLOAK AND DAGGER is sadly lacking. The espionage that drives the story often seems implausible and half-baked. The very fact that an 11-year-old child can outsmart a ring of so-called terrorists doesn’t speak too well of the antagonists' supposed threat.
The real threat, as anyone who has seen FIGHT CLUB can attest, is the danger of imaginary friends. CLOAK AND DAGGER's own Jack Flack seems to be a downright rat-bastard of an imaginary pal. Dabney Coleman plays the dual role of Jack Flack and Davey's father Hal Osborne. Flack is the hero of a series of video and role-playing games Davey seems to spend every waking hour of his life playing. Maybe it’s because he’s attempting to connect with his often-absent father, but Davey has embraced Flack to such a degree he finds himself having frequent conversations and seeking advice from the fictional character. The problem is Flack never seems to give good advice.
Whether he's advising the boy to spy on others, run through traffic, lie to his father or hide in a car trunk alongside to a dead body, Flack is leading Davey from one potentially dangerous situation to another. When the boy refuses to lose his innocence and shoot a bad guy with a stolen gun, Jack Flack craftily tricks the young boy into pumping a man full of lead. With friends like these, who needs anti-schizophrenic medication?
Yet, despite the film's weak points, something remains poignant about the story's message. Maybe it's the warning to children not to harbor a potentially unhealthy relationship with escapist fantasy or it’s the childhood fear of strangers shooting at you, but something about the film stands the test of time and offers a memorable experience to movie watchers.
I, for one, found myself enveloped in the unspoken childhood angst suffered by Davey that causes him to reach out for his father's love through the coincidental (or maybe not) similarities in Flack and his father. It also didn't hurt that the film's San Antonio setting was a surreal treat for this Texan who has been craving a tense showdown on the Riverwalk or a smuggling operation run out of the Alamo.
Whatever it is, something about the film struck a cinematic nerve in this child of the '80s. While CLOAK AND DAGGER is in no danger of having an onslaught of fans demand nostalgic driven merchandise, it will make an excellent film to share with the voices in your head.