Timecop (1994) / Action-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, nudity and language
Running time: 98 min.
Cast: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Ron Silver, Mia Sara, Bruce McGill, Gloria Reuben, Scott Bellis, Jason Schombing, Scott Lawrence, Kenneth Welsh
Director: Peter Hyams
Screenplay: Mark Verheiden (based on the Dark Horse comic by Mark Verheiden and Mike Richardson)
Review published September 26, 2007
From the pages of Dark Horse comics comes Timecop, a futuristic time-travel cop thriller that has the dubious distinction of being Jean-Claude Van Damme's (Street Fighter, Universal Soldier) arguably best effort, with the possible exception of Bloodsport. It's still not that good, but does that surprise anyone not an avowed Van Damme fan?
Van Damme plays cop Max Walker, in the employ of an agency commissioned to stop criminal activities associated with those who perform time travel, the Time Enforcement Commission. Tragedy strikes when he loses his wife (Sara, Ferris Bueller's Day Off) on the day she is to announce her pregnancy at the hands of criminals he's never seen before. Beat up and left for dead, Walker continues with his life as best he can. Ten years later, Walker is still on the time cop beat, now suspecting that the biggest threat to the nation's safety is being posed by a man right under his very nose, Senator Aaron McComb (SIlver, Reversal of Fortune), who has been using the time travel machine to change time to his favor, securing enough funds to make a bid for the presidency -- a job he is sure to get since he can stack all of the cards in his favor whenever he feels like. Walker makes it his mission to take down McComb, but when you're fighting a man who has the know-how to potentially erase your very existence, the case is going to be bigger than he ever imagined.
Peter Hyams (Stay Tuned, Running Scared) continues his descent into sub par fare with Timecop, a film that only has one asset -- low expectations. One of the more troubling things about one's ability to enjoy it even as an escapist film is the lack of disbelief suspension involved in the time travel aspects, as it seems that both cop and crook spend so much time looking at what they can do at the moment that they can never see the larger ways that they can effect change. Oddly, the ripple effect of the actions in the past, when taking on the magnitude of making one person the wealthiest and most powerful person in the world, seems to have only minor incidental effects on whatever constitutes the present that it boggles the mind why they bother with a police force when it seems even the most egregious crimes don't do a heck of a lot.
The best and worst aspect of Timecop happens to be the same thing: Jean-Claude Van Damme's appearance. Van Damme is still coasting off of his looks and physical abilities, which Hyams manages to capitalize on to good effect for the most part, but as an actor, he's just so hard to watch trying to emote anguish or remorse. Silver makes for a decent menacing villain, exuding intelligence and intensity, even if he's not quite the most charismatic of choices. Whoever did the hair, wardrobe and make-up should get credit for doing a fantastic job in showing the aging between the characters from 10 years before to the modern day.
Your ability to enjoy Timecop revolves primarily in your fondness for Van Damme and your ability to ignore thinking too much about the logic of the plot for the sake of the swiftly paced action and provocative story twists. I don't think I'll ever quite understand how Walker can go in the past and see his future being drastically altered, and then return to the present having absolutely no memory of anything that has happened to him between the past and present with this newly-altered timeline. If some other version of himself has been living his life for him, where is he? Does he just disappear when Walker returns to the present, replaced by a guy who knows absolutely next to nothing about what has gone on the previous ten years? That's not just altering the past, it's altering the future as well.
Ah, but I've made the mistake of trying to think during a Van Damme film, which misses the point entirely. Hyams sees the film for what it is -- an excuse to showcase plenty of fighting, stunts, special effects, and whiz-bang doodads. Perhaps someone like James Cameron would have taken both his action/special effects and his story seriously enough to hone it to excellence, but Hyams just wants to keep the setting as comic book as possible. I don't blame him -- it would be impossible to try to make this film plausible, so why try?
Timecop is perfectly adequate as a movie one can put on to engage for the duration without much pretense of greatness, and while it is definitely cheesy, it's a label that works in its favor. It's good enough to keep you interested in what goes on, and bad enough to laugh at its ridiculousness, which makes it kind of a treasure in the trash department.
Now, if only I could go back in time and erase all memory of Van Damme's other efforts...
-- Followed by a Van Damme-less straight-to-video release, Timecop: The Berlin Decision, in 2003. Spun off into a short-lived TV series in 1997.
©2007 Vince Leo