Universal Pictures initially released Cloak & Dagger as a double featured with The Last Starfighter on July 13, 1984. This was during the Summer Olympics, which were being held in Los Angeles that year, and Universal hoped that kids who didn’t care about the Olympics would go see these two films. I was one of them. Richard Franklin directed film starring Henry Thomas, Dabney Coleman, and Michael Murphy. Rated PG.
“Cloak & Dagger” centers around Davey Osborne (Henry Thomas), an 11-year-old boy grappling with the recent loss of his mother. His father, Hal (Dabney Coleman), is often absent due to his demanding work schedule. To cope with his loneliness, Davey creates an imaginary friend named Jack Flack (also played by Dabney Coleman), who coincidentally is a secret agent. When Davey stumbles upon an Atari 2600 cartridge containing classified government plans, he becomes the target of determined spies willing to go to any lengths to obtain the cartridge. Davey must rely on his resourcefulness and the support of his imaginary friend to protect himself, until his father emerges as the true hero.
Released in the 1980s, “Cloak & Dagger” falls within the action/adventure genre that was popular during that era. While it may not possess the same humor and charm as films like “The Goonies,” its frequent broadcast on HBO ensured its lasting impact on audiences. Henry Thomas, known for his role in “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982), showcases his talent in this film, which was one of two movies he made in 1984, alongside “Misunderstood” with Gene Hackman. As an adult viewer, the intensity of the violence inflicted upon Davey by the criminals stands out, especially considering that the film was marketed as family-friendly. The portrayal of scenes where Davey is thrown into a car while his deceased friend lies beside him with a gunshot wound, although depicted within the boundaries of a PG rating, might be deemed too excessive for a children’s film by Disney’s standards at the time.
Dabney Coleman, a beloved actor of the 1970s and ’80s, predominantly portrays the secret agent Jack Flack in this film, although he also appears as Davey’s father at the beginning and end. What distinguishes Coleman’s performance is his portrayal of a good guy, which deviates from his usual roles. This change was both puzzling and intriguing at the time and remains so today. Coleman’s signature characteristics are still present, albeit toned down significantly. His Jack Flack strikes the right balance between cockiness and compassion.
The villains in “Cloak & Dagger” set it apart from other ’80s action films targeting children. They are portrayed as formidable and played with toughness. Unlike the comical Fratellis from “The Goonies,” who were mainly entertaining, this film features little humor in the depiction of its criminals. They possess intelligence and are willing to kill when necessary.
Although “Cloak & Dagger” follows the typical ’80s theme of kids finding themselves in over their heads, it remains an enjoyable film. As a child, I was drawn to the incorporation of video game elements and Henry Thomas’s performance, and those aspects still resonate with me as an adult viewer. Additionally, the spies’ characters, which deviate from the norm of children’s films from that era, now intrigue me. With a runtime of 101 minutes, the film strikes the perfect balance in terms of length. Dabney Coleman delivers his usual great performance, and while the ending may be somewhat predictable and sentimental, it remains true to the heart of a children’s film. While it may not be readily available for purchase nowadays, the film can be streamed. I recommend giving it a watch on a Saturday afternoon.
I give this film 2.5 stars out of 5.