The fantasy sweepstakes continue.
''Cloak & Dagger'' looks familiar. Exactly as in ''The Last Starfighter'' and roughly as in ''The NeverEnding Story,'' its hero is recruited into a battle between forces of good and evil. Only it isn't the universe at stake this time, it's just the United States - if young Davey doesn't stop a secret blueprint from being smuggled abroad in a souped-up Atari cartridge.
There's a clear link between these three pictures. In each case, the main character is a boy who doesn't ''keep his feet on the ground'' as the grown-ups tell him to. He wastes his time on frivolous pursuits like novels or (in ''Cloak'' and ''Starfighter'') video games. But those trivial pastimes are really preparing him for a glorious destiny. The grown-ups will eat their words before the last reel is out.
Why is this story line popping up so often? Because it's a logical escalation of the fantasy sweepstakes inspired by ''Star Wars'' and ''E.T.'' One way to get new mileage out of old ideas is to make audiences identify more vividly with characters and situations. The new films do this by making the hero a direct surrogate for the viewer. Since young boys are a prime box office target, these pictures are about young boys - who fritter away their time on stories and games just as the rest of us do at the movies. The hero's fantasy comes true when he saves the day with talents the mundane world wasn't smart enough to value. And the audience cheers right on cue.
''Cloak & Dagger'' goes an extra step by equipping young Davey with an imaginary pal, an idealized father (Dabney Coleman) who eggs him on when the adventure gets tough. This lends an emotional tension to the story, since Davey's dad is also on the scene (Dabney Coleman again) with the usual boring advice about keeping your feet on the ground. Besides saving the US from spies, Davey has a pair of Dabney Colemans to decide between. It's a tall order, but he manages to pull things together in time for the hokiest finale of the season.
''Cloak & Dagger'' is a fantasy before it's a domestic drama, but the domestic scenes have more resonance. Boring as he is, Davey's father really cares for him, and you hope things will work out. By contrast, the suspense sequences are so limply handled that it's hard to believe the director is Richard Franklin, who almost brought off ''Psycho II'' and is reputed to be a Hitchcock devotee. Henry Thomas is capable as Davey, although he somehow lacks the fresh charm he brought to Elliott in ''E.T.'' The picturesque San Antonio locations were glossily photographed by Victor J. Kemper.
Godard's 'First Name: Carmen'
Some 30 years into his career, Jean-Luc Godard is still the enfant terrible of European film. In his new picture, ''First Name: Carmen,'' he shows no signs of mellowing out. It's as pungent, provocative, and proudly outrageous as anything he has ever given us, from its bold structure to its sad, obsessive, clinically depicted vision of modern sexuality.
For some reason, critics keep expecting Godard to make a commercial comeback, with a movie like his classic ''Breathless'' that would reach big art-house audiences. While he has swung closer to the real world than he was 15 years ago - the period of his obscure Maoist tracts - it should be clear by now that he's not planning to temper his ornery style. ''Numero Deux,'' heralded in 1975 as a ''Breathless'' remake, turned out to be a jagged meditation on everyday life and its reflections in the mass media. ''Every Man for Himself'' interrupted its story with stunning visual tropes. ''Passion'' flung plot and character pretty much out the window, fitfully seeking a new language that would flow from light and image.
''Carmen'' picks up where ''Passion'' left off, using music rather than painting as its main metaphor. Written by Anne-Marie Mieville with vague reference to Bizet's opera, it juggles three motifs: a story of ill-starred love and violence; carefully composed seascapes and cityscapes; and long sequences showing a string quartet in rehearsal. It's typical of Godard's (originality? perversity? whimsy?) that the music is Beethoven, not Bizet.
What's going on here? The key to grasping ''First Name: Carmen'' is to realize Godard's love of film as a plastic medium. Since this has been a constant of his career, one could apply to ''Carmen'' the same words that critic Robert Phillip Kolker has written about Godard's very first feature: ''He insists that the viewer look at the images and their arrangement and comprehend them, rather than pass immediately through them in search of a story.''
While there is a story in ''Carmen,'' it must take its place alongside the movie's other elements - images and sounds from the world at large. Hence the shots of sea and city that punctuate the action, and hence the varied and expressive sound track. Indeed, the music apparently determines the course of the film as much as the narrative does. ''The music has a certain control over the images,'' Godard told a Film Quarterly interviewer, adding that ''there are places in the film where the scenes become a bit autonomous or simplistic or even vulgar ... and then the music comes and takes over as if it were saying, 'Come on, let's go, let's go on, this is serious....' ''
Few other filmmakers would dream of shaping a plot in response to passages of chamber music. This audacity aside, however, it's too bad that neither the plot nor its integration into the film is as successful as those of some other Godard works, including the recent ''Every Man for Himself'' and the movies that ''Carmen'' most resembles, ''Breathless'' and ''Pierrot le fou.''
The main characters are a criminal (perhaps a terrorist) and her boyfriend, a guard she meets while robbing a bank. She is a Carmen figure in her marginality to ''proper'' society and her arbitrary way with men; he recalls Don Jose because he throws the other things in his life aside for a chance of winning her. Also on hand is Godard himself, playing Carmen's flaky Uncle Jean, a failed movie director. Unfortunately, neither they nor their situations build enough momentum to hold their own against Raoul Coutard's immaculate cinematography in the nonstory sequences, not to mention the Beethoven music. And the climaxes - a weird, explicit sexual encounter followed by a killing - are more soggy than apocalyptic.
Even when sequences don't work, though, ''Carmen'' puts us on clear notice that Godard's maverick modernism remains alive and vigorous. Looking at many of his still-novel strategies, it's remarkable to realize he has been studying their implications for decades now. Contrast his treatment of music in ''Carmen, '' for example, with remarks he made about music in a 1965 discussion of ''Pierrot le fou'' with some French interviewers: ''It is one of the narrative elements - it evokes life, it is the music of the worlds outside. And as the characters often talk of the worlds outside, I use their music instead of filming them. These are sounds which have the value of images.''
It's the same in his newest work, though the details have changed. Maybe it takes a wayward talent to be so consistent. In any case, Godard remains one of a kind, and neither age nor custom has made a dent in his incorrigible talent.