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Film / Cloak & Dagger (1984)

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Not to be confused with the trope Cloak and Dagger or the superhero duo Cloak and Dagger, Cloak & Dagger is a 1984 video game tie-in movie, originally released as part of a Double Feature alongside The Last Starfighter.

Davey is a young boy with a vivid imagination. He pretends to be a James Bond-esque superspy named Jack Flack in games with other kids, and likes to imagine that Jack is standing beside him in daily life.

One day, Davey is on a fire escape while playing a spy-game with his friend Kim and happens to see a real FBI agent being threatened by a few bad guys. The agent escapes to the stairwell, and hands Davey a cartridge for a game called Cloak & Dagger. With his dying breath, he tells Davey to keep the game away from the hitmen, then gets gunned down by those very hitmen.

Davey escapes with the Cloak & Dagger cartridge. With the help of his imaginary friend Jack, Davey has to keep his precious video game from falling into enemy hands, to protect the important national secrets it contains.

As in many other 80s movies, Cloak & Dagger features a non-traditional family: Davey's father is raising him, as his mother is recently deceased. But surprisingly, it subverts many classic family-movie tropes.

Tropes include:

  • Actor Allusion: John McIntire and Jeanette Nolan both appeared in Psycho, whose director Alfred Hitchcock was a great influence on this film. Director Richard Franklin had previously helmed Psycho II.
  • Adults Are Useless: Davey's father, the police, and several other characters refuse to believe Davey and will not help him in any way. Even the grandparent-like elderly couple who help Davey escape the hit men turn out to be Evil Old Folks. It's justified — and even deconstructed — in that Davey's fantasy spy stories have destroyed his credibility, and most of the adults believe, reasonably, that he is Crying Wolf. (For example, the security guard at the beginning orders an immediate lockdown of the building after Davey reports a murder, and he only comes to doubt Davey after they fail to find a body. And Lieutenant Fleming is sympathetic when Hal tells him of the recent death in the family, and he is willing to let the matter drop, but he tells Hal, correctly, that Davey needs psychological help. Hal, Davey's father, should have had more faith in his son, but Hal is dealing with the recent death of his wife, he has to raise his son on his own, and he is justifiably worried his son is withdrawing into a fantasy spy world to deal with his mother's death. More than anything, Hal is Wrong Genre Savvy; once he realizes Davey has been telling the truth, he goes into Papa Wolf mode.
    • The gate agent at the airport thinks nothing of giving two unattended children information at 11:30pm without ever asking where their parents are or if they need help.
    • The bus driver and taxi drivers simply tell a child they can't help him get to the airport rather than contacting authorities for his safety.
  • Batman Cold Open: We start with one of Jack Flack's many adventures, which turns out to be a game being played by our main character, Davey.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Davey fantasizes about cloak and dagger adventures, then gets forced into one.
  • Bloodless Carnage: There's only blood here when the plot demands it. The dying programmer has been shot then falls several floors to the floor, but the body is gone and the place neatly cleaned up in about a minute. Davey spends two trips in the trunk with a dead Morris who neither bleeds (despite a shot to the head) nor smells. Jack Flack being shot and not bleeding makes sense because he is imaginary - which increases the shock In-Universe and out when Davey denies him and he begins to bleed.
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Kim, although her brattyness is mostly due to her finding Davey's constant spy game stuff in public "embarrassing."
  • Cassandra Truth: Picture this: Your wife has died, and your son has retreated into a fantasy world that is interfering with his real life. Some of this is an understandable way to deal with a loss, but your son is taking it entirely too far, to the point where he is hallucinating his imaginary friend, and (you think) he is now suffering from a delusion that he is really being chased by "the bad guys." And it gets even worse when you realize that that someone really was after him, and you think they may have killed him, and you might have prevented it if you had listened to him earlier....
    Hal: (whispering) Oh God. Why didn't I believe him?
  • Contrived Coincidence: The boat tour Davey hides on just happens to be taken by the old couple who are in San Antonio to get the cartridge.
  • Crush the Keepsake: A self-inflicted version. Davey stomps down on his beloved Jack Flack figure when he says "I don't want to play anymore!" to demonstrate how sick he is of all of the crazy crap he's had to endure. It's Punctuated Pounding, even!
  • Deadly Dodging: Jack Flack tells Davey to use the "Crossfire Gambit" when he's being pursued by two armed men. He hides under a bridge, and lets the first one pass, then jumps out and runs right past the surprised mook, while the other one (Rice) fires...right into the first mook, killing him.
  • Easter Egg: A pretty dangerous version — reaching a specific score with the MacGuffin "Cloak And Dagger" cartridge triggers the display of secret data contained in an extra chip in the cartridge. The data looks like schematics for an SR-71 and a spy satellite, complete with '80s wire-frame graphics.
  • Everything Is Big in Texas: Between the Tower Life Building, River Walk, the Sunken Gardens in Brackenridge Park, and the Alamo, the movie gets a lot of mileage out of using early-1980s San Antonio as a setting. San Antonio makes sense as a setting given Davey’s military brat background, since at the time the city was host to three USAF bases (Randolph, Lackland, and Kelly), and still today has a large military presencenote . Also a Reality Subtext or even Actor Allusion, as San Antonio is young star Henry Thomas’s hometown.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: George and Eunice MacCready may not make an honest living, but they become very indignant with Rice, Alvarez, and Haverman for their failure to be discreet and maintain a low profile, especially when the latter three try to publicly murder Davey (see Would Hurt a Child). Eunice even says something to this effect as she and George are in the car while discussing their plans to flee the country, and he agrees. Of course, this changes later when Davey has the upper hand against them, and they retaliate by kidnapping him at gunpoint.
  • Evil Gloating: Rice takes pleasure in telling Davey how he will enjoy shooting Davey in the kneecaps and stomach then watch as Davey dies slowly and painfully. At first, Rice thinks Davey only has a water pistol, but at some point it's clear he figures that Davey has a real gun... but can't bring himself to pull the trigger. Justified in that Rice is (1) a truly nasty piece of work, and (2) he's right. Davey would never have been able to shoot, even in self-defense... had not Jack made a Heroic Sacrifice, albeit an imaginary one.
  • Evil Old Folks: George and Eunice MacCready seem to be grandparent-like figures who are among the few to believe Davey's story. However, they are actually enforcers working for the spies whom Davey is trying to escape, and in the film's climax, they kidnap him at gunpoint and commandeer a plane to flee the country.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: The film takes place over, at most, about 36 hours. The last forty minutes are nearly in Real Time.
  • Fakin' MacGuffin: After the bad guys witness Davey getting the cartridge, and fail to capture him at his home the next day, they kidnap his next-door neighbor and invoke a Hostage for MacGuffin scenario. Jack Flack tells Davey not to play along, and instead tells him to steal a normal Cloak & Dagger cartridge to use for the trade instead. The bad guys figure it out very quickly, as a sticker on the back of the cartridge gives it away.
  • Freudian Trio: Haverman, Alvarez, and Rice fall under this trope as the Id, Ego, and Superego, respectively, in terms of their impulsive behavior, as they select some very public San Antonio landmarks in which they conduct their dirty spy business. Haverman is the most reckless, while Alvarez falls somewhere in between him and Rice, who is the most discreet (albeit very slightly.) Not surprisingly, this is precisely the order in which they are killed. Haverman is killed in a car wreck when he carelessly drives the van into a jewelry store after intending to run down and kill Davey; Alvarez is accidentally killed by Rice during the aforementioned "Crossfire Gambit" when Rice tries to shoot Davey instead; and finally, after picking up the gun from Alvarez's corpse, Davey kills the remaining spy out of rage when backed into a wall when he thinks said remaining spy has killed Jack Flack.
  • Free-Range Children: Davey and Kim seem pretty comfortable traveling around San Antonio by themselves, although understandably their parents freak out when Kim's mother comes home to find her daughter not there and Davey's dad receives a phone call from his son from a payphone, both occurring at roughly 11 o'clock at night.
  • Growing Up Sucks: For Jack, at least. When the very bloody implications of actual gunplay sink in for Davey and he no longer wants to "play", Jack laments that his father eventually stopped wanting to play Cowboys and Indians too. Because Davey no longer wants to play, Jack suddenly sprouts wounds where he was shot, collapses, and disappears.
  • Handcuffed Briefcase: At the opening, we see an officer handcuffing a briefcase to himself before leaving the limousine. Agent Jack Flack is tasked to steal this briefcase, and prepared for this, with a gadget watch that cuts through the handcuffs.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Used on nearly every gun in the movie.
  • I'm Dying, Please Take My MacGuffin: The FBI agent who is gunned down gives Davey the Cloak & Dagger video game cartridge containing important national secrets just before dying. He also tells him the score needed to access the hidden data.
  • Imaginary Friend: Jack Flack is Davey's companion through most of the film, but only exists in Davey's imagination. A few scenes are devoted to showing how Jack doesn't reflect in mirrors and isn't visible to other people.
  • It Was Here, I Swear!: When Davey brings a security guard to the scene of the murder he'd just witnessed, all evidence has been removed and no one believes him.
  • Kids Driving Cars: Davey is able to escape from Rice and his henchmen by stealing Rice’s car... but since Davey is eleven years old, has never driven a car, and can't even see out the windshield and hit the gas at the same time, the car goes careening out of control. Davey is barely able to get out of the parking garage, and he crashes the car shortly thereafter.
  • MacGuffin: The video game cartridge.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: It's never clear whether Jack Flack is some sort of magical being or if he's really just a figment of Davey's imagination. Jack seems to have more situational awareness than Davey in some scenes and implies that he was also Davey's father's imaginary friend. It's even possible that Rice is able to see him during the showdown at the Sunken Gardens, though he may have also been reacting to where Davey was looking and firing on instinct.
    Davey: He could see you!
    Jack: (wincing) I doubt he had the imagination.
  • Nerd Glasses: The proprietor of the Game Keeper wears Coke-bottle glasses to establish him as a nerd.
  • Nested Story Reveal: The opening credits play over a scene with Jack Flack having what looks like a real-life spy adventure outside a foreign embassy. A cross-barred metal door drops, trapping him within the grounds. It looks like Jack is toast....then a pair of huge multi-sided dice roll down the street and Jack is lifted up and out of his adventure. The scene cuts to Davey and Kim playing an RPG in Morris's game shop.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Jack urges Davey to shoplift a Cloak & Dagger game cartridge from The Game Keeper to give the spies in exchange for Kim rather than the real thing, and surely enough, the "Game Keeper" label on the back not only tips off Rice that it's a faux cartridge, but it ends up leading him right to Morris, who has the real cartridge.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: Several scenes suggest that Jack may not be imaginary at all. In several instances, he interacts with the environment and is aware of things that Davey wouldn't be. In a late scene, one of the assassins seems to see Jack. And in his final scene, his dialogue suggests that he was also Davey's father's friend and that whatever he is follows some sort of metaphysical rules including having to leave when his current kid says he doesn't want to play anymore.
  • Out of the Inferno: At the end of the film, the plane the MacCreadys have commandeered and which Davey's father, Hal, has volunteered to pilot is blown up by the bomb which Davey stopped from being used to kill Kim. However, Hal emerges from the fireball unharmed.
    Hal: Jack Flack always escapes!
    Davey: I don't need him anymore. I've got you, Dad.
  • Papa Wolf: Hal Osborne becomes the hero in the final act of the film, once he realizes Davey has been telling the truth all along.
  • Parental Substitute: Davey's military air traffic controller father doesn't spend much time with him due to work commitments, so Davey has invented Jack Flack as a replacement father figure. They're even played by the same actor, Dabney Coleman.
  • Parents as People: As stated in Adults Are Useless, Hal, Davey's father, should have had more faith in his son. But considering that he was juggling raising a son on his own, working a stressful job in the Air Force, and dealing with the death of his wife, one can't judge him, especially as that son has retreated into his own fantasy world. At one point, Hal lectures Davey gently that real heroes don't go out and kill "the bad guys;" they do boring things like trying to raise a family right. He also worries, correctly, that Davey's fantasy world has become unhealthy. If anything, Hal is Wrong Genre Savvy; most of the time, his advice would be dead-on accurate. When he realizes that Davey was right, Hal is horrified, and he regrets not believing in him. Then, when Davey is in trouble and Hal is in a position to help, he goes into full Papa Wolf mode. Hal is a near-textbook case of how to write a parent as a complex, imperfect human being correctly. Dabney Coleman has stated that he has had many men come to him and tell him they saw this movie with their sons or fathers, and it was very important in their life.
  • Police Are Useless: The police fail to follow up on Davey's story about the shooting in the stairwell, they don't even go up and question the business. When the police take Kim at the airport they don't immediately learn her name or call her mother - they don't seem concerned at all about this unattended minor at 11:30pm at the airport.
  • Precision F-Strike: Like so many other family films in the 80s, this one has it’s share of profanity, such as the “S” word.
  • Product Placement: The Cloak and Dagger video game existed as an arcade game. The version shown in the movie uses the arcade screens and is depicted as being played on the Atari 5200, a planned release which was forestalled by the 1983 crash.
  • Red Right Hand: The old lady's hand with only three fingers.
  • Stereotypical Nerd: The proprietor of the Game Keeper is an overweight, bearded man with Nerd Glasses who spends most of his time playing video games and requesting Twinkies.
  • There Are No Police: Many times in this movie things happen which should have attracted the attention of the authorities or people calling the authorities. Men breaking windows and doors on a house to get in. Children running past bystanders, chased by men with guns. The van swerving in front of a bus to capture a child who had just jumped off of said bus - the driver should have called the van plate in on his radio.
  • To the Pain: When Rice has Davey cornered, he boasts that while he could turn Davey into hamburger in about three seconds with the machine gun, he'd rather start with shooting him in the kneecaps...
  • Troubling Unchildlike Behavior: Davey is obsessed with spy adventures that involve global espionage and a lot of murder. His imaginary friend also urges him to gun down a man, while Davey himself is reluctant to take a life.
  • Uncertain Doom: Did Hal really make it out of the plane before it exploded or is this a new version of Davey's imaginary friend? They are played by the same actor.
  • Villains Out Shopping: The bad guys who came to San Antonio to buy the cartridge? They're sightseeing before getting to business.
  • Wham Line:
    • A dark version shows up when Rice and Alvarez are hunting Davey down. Jack keeps acting like it's all in fun, wanting to play by the rules of a game. By now, Davey has seen two men get killed, has been stuck in the trunk of a car with the corpse of someone he knew, and he's trying to save a friend from getting blown up by a bomb. He's scared to death, knowing what’s at stake, and he says,
    "My Dad was right. I don't want to play anymore."
    • Near the end, after Jack has disappeared....
    Davey: Jack, come back! I can't do this on my own!
    Jack's Disembodied Voice: Yes you can. You were always on your own.
  • Wire Dilemma: George tries to disarm the bomb in the dummy walky-talky, but after pulling out a wire which doesn't do the job he says "I don't know how to do it" and they decide to leave the plane instead.
  • Would Hurt a Child: And how. The spies have no qualms whatsoever about murdering children.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: In Jack's Batman Cold Open, he mercilessly kills a few male thugs, but simply makes eyes at a beautiful Femme Fatale. When she levels a gun at him, he blocks it with a bulletproof hat, but the bullet reflects and hits her in the chest. He cradles her as she falls and seems to lament the fact that she died.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: Davey thinks — at least at first — he's in a more kid-friendly spy story, a la his board games or Spy Kids, or perhaps a lighter James Bond story. Actually, he's in a grittier, darker spy story, akin to Ronin (1998) or a John le Carré novel (more family-friendly, but still pretty brutal).

Alternative Title(s): Cloak And Dagger