Retro Review: The Dangers of LARPing - Cloak & Dagger (1984)

When I was a kid, I used to secretly act out my favorite video games in real life. I would pretend I was on a secret mission or that I was in a fantasy setting. This was the result of a steady diet of RPGs and Dragonlance books. Cloak & Dagger captures the spirit of this idea perfectly by melding a spy adventure with some nerdy gaming elements.

Davey Osborne (Henry Thomas) is a young boy who loves to play a pen-and-paper RPG called Cloak & Dagger. His father doesn't pay much attention to him so he has an imaginary friend called Jack Flack which is based off of a character in Cloak & Dagger. Both Davey's father and Jack Flack are played by Dabney Coleman which is pretty clever and well done. Flack is debonair and charismatic while the father is stern and greying at his temples. The idea is that Davey wants to connect to his father because he loves him but cannot so he creates this idealized version of him to interact with. It's apparent that Davey is the only character who can see Flack (other than the audience) so it lends the story a bit of magical realism.

Like most '80s flicks, Cloak & Dagger is dark for a kid's film and Davey is in real peril on  more than one occasion. He gets embroiled in an actual conspiracy and the people perpetrating it are not messing around. It comes off a bit silly nowadays, but I remember as a child being disturbed by some of the scenes. I like that the element of danger is ever-present in the narrative because it gives the movie more edge. The gaming aspects are excellent too, with care and detail given to the video game scenes. The game Cloak & Dagger used in the film is a real arcade game that was released by Atari. They show the characters playing it on an Atari 5200 but it was never ported to that console due to the video game crash in 1983.

Ahhhhh. The good ol' days. 

The overall film quality is a bit of a mixed bag, however, as some of the acting isn't very good (especially from the child actors) and the story beats rely too much on coincidence. For the most part ,the production values aren't half bad, but it looks like a TV movie with a higher budget as opposed to a blockbuster film. There are lots of fun '80s touches though: the chubby neckbeard game store owner with thick glasses, the fact that Davey apparently doesn't ever need adult supervision, and that he also carries around a realistic-looking squirt gun in public. That definitely would not fly nowadays in a modern film. These things are part of the appeal of the decade though and are amusing to watch.

Son, cross your arms. It makes you look like a real man. 

This is one of the underrated little gems that people in the know love to gush about despite its issues. The way it depicts the father and son relationship is touching and anyone who has ever had trouble getting along with their parents will be able to empathize with them. Dabney Coleman (Jack Flack) said in an interview:  "I’ll tell you, though, it's amazing how many people have come up to me and said something to me about that film, including Timothy Bottoms... So Timothy came up to my table at Dan Tana's, where I was, uh, kind of a regular... Timothy says, 'You don’t know me from veal parmesan, but I just want to thank you for playing Jack Flack. You don’t know what that movie means to my son and me.' That happens to me two or three times a year. It's always either a father saying, 'I saw that movie with my son,' or a son saying, 'I saw it with my dad.' But then they say, 'Seeing that movie was very important in my life.' And that's always very nice to hear."


-Michelle Kisner