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In the far off future of . . . um, 2004, time travel is possible. Because of its use for nefarious exploits (think machine gun-totting robbers holding up Civil War era coaches), it is also illegal and the government has created a Time Enforcement Commission with special agents to prevent and investigate these time . . . bandits (apologies to Mr. Gilliam). Headed by the so-obviously-a-bad-guy-you-wonder-why-he-isn’t-named-Snidely, the shady Senator Aaron McCrumb (Ron Silver) has plans of his own for the project. Soon after, police officer Max Walker (Jean-Claude Van Damme) is made a TEC agent. That same night, his home is attacked and his wife is killed in a massive explosion. We sense something foul afoot.
A decade later, Walker is still at the TEC and finds himself in 1929 trying to prevent his former partner from jumping out of a window during the stock market crash. He learns that he his working against his will to steal money from the past to fund the presidential bid of none other than McComb, and feels suicide is the only way out of his dilemma. McComb has been looting the past for gold and cash and has a lot of powerful people in his back pocket. Walker is double-crossed by someone close and narrowly escapes his own death while attempting to stop McComb. As the story progresses, Walker leaps back again to try and stop the corrupt senator as the two race for control over each other’s destiny.
Fast-paced, well-directed and filled with better action and special effects than the usual Van Damme experience, Timecop delivers as a 90s action thriller.
Scene Setup: Senator McComb used Walker’s partner to steal money from history, threatening his family if he didn’t comply. Ultimately, because of Walker’s investigation, his partner chose to die rather than reveal McComb publicly. Walker has no evidence but McComb knows that Walker is close. Early the next morning at Walker’s apartment, two of McComb’s thugs attempt a hit.
Why it Matters: Well, we have a lot to admire here. Just prior to this moment, Walker spent the night in dead-wife-movie-cliché, drinking in the dark while watching a home movie of her talking to him while he films. He passes out on the sofa . . . but got undressed at some point because as the scene starts, he is only wearing boxers. And snug ones at that, ladies. Interestingly, a disembodied voice (the same voice we hear in his future car – more on that soon) announces that he has no new messages. The electric charge (more on that also) of the baddies taser wakes Walker just as the electrified prongs fire at his head. Then we’re off to the races. A nearly naked Jean-Claude does what he does best, kick booty and do what we paid our ticket to see.
More: Director Peter Hymas has been making movies since the early 1970s, most of them action oriented and on the side of cartoonish, though he did make a very competent sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, 2010: The Year We Make Contact. He is known for fast action with strong leading men. While were not big fans of Van Damme, we respect his contribution and have spent some lazy Saturday afternoons having a laugh over his rock ’em sock ’em films. This movie is a bit of departure – a high concept political thriller with time travel. His fighting skills aren’t an especially important element of the character or story line. He isn’t going to have to be a kick . . . boxer in some kind of . . . well, blood . . . sport. We’re not saying he doesn’t do any fighting. Au contraire. But it is in service to the plot rather than being the reason it exists. The film has a number of surprisingly effective moments, most of it thanks to the late scenery-chewing master Ron Silver as McComb. He is especially fun while berating his younger self in the film, and has a smarmy, slippery way that practically begs for a Van Damme heel kick to the face. But we love this scene for its gloriously silly action, no-holds barred attitude, and utter implausibility.
If your squeamish, suck it up, ’cause we’re going to start with the knife fight. More specifically, the knife fight’s only successful strike. After some rather exhaustive research (we’re not so knowledgeable about close quarters combat weaponry – we barely know how to use a butter knife), we are pretty sure Van Damme is brandishing a Gil Hibbon Double Shadow. That mostly sounds like a secondary Marvel superhero to the average reader, but trust us when we tell you, its a popular blade among enthusiasts. Run a search of it on YouTube and you’ll discover it’s handled like a newly discovered Van Gogh at auction. It is apparently very well made and exceedingly sharp. Our hero’s nemesis is armed with two blades, and though we couldn’t discern the make of either of them, we’re guessing they are of the same manufacturer. Anyway, we’re not going to deny that Van Damme in his prime was most assuredly deserving of the title “The Muscles from Brussels”. The man was tight.
Apparently the is knife proof as well, or his bulbous thigh is actually cleverly disguised and is in reality layered entirely with McDonald’s ketchup packets. What should have instantly incapacitated him, instead is rendered inconsequential in as much time as the camera devotes to it. A moment later, utterly unaffected by it, he battles his way to the kitchen where we can only assume the spilled water washed it clean, as it disappears during his famous split. We know what your saying. You’re saying, “Gee, guys, it might have just been a scratch!” And we’d say,”Stop defending Claude. He can take care of himself. He’s the muscles from Brussels!” But actually, he screams and reels in great pain (even though *whoops* he did grab the wrong leg).
We’re nitpicking. Let’s continue.
So why have only two goons, armed with just a taser gun and a few knives come to kill a highly trained time traveling martial-arts master special agent? Why don’t they have guns? Why did they wait until morning? How did they get into the futuristic cop house without a sound, yet the whir (see below) of a taser warming up alerts Walker? The answer to all of these questions is simple: because it’s awesome. This is a Van Damme flick and we’ve already shook its hand and wished realism a fond farewell the moment we saw the car.
Wait. What? We didn’t mention the car? Oh then, good news, readers! When 2004 finally gets here, we are going to have a revolution in the automobile industry that will eliminate the need for drivers, windows, and any real practical or aesthetic design sense. While it’s fun to poke fun at predictions in film that fail to deliver (Where’s the Terminator army most of us were hoping for in 1997?), sometimes it just gets silly. Let’s look at the advancements in ten years of a car. Here’s the 1985 and 1995 Ford Mustang:
Sure there are some changes. Maybe a little sleeker by design and some performance and mechanical upgrades. When movie makers look to show a future in their movies, they often consult experts in science and technology. Spielberg famously did so for Minority Report. We’re guessing the creators of Timecop consulted the caterer’s eleven-year-old son. Behold:
Anyway, back to That Moment. The baddies decide their best tactic is to use a taser gun, which, if you’re unfamiliar with what that is, then watch the clip again! No, seriously, it is a very popular non-lethal tool that law enforcement use to subdue potentially problematic or otherwise dangerous people. Did you notice we said non-lethal. (Okay, they can be lethal.) And we’ll disregard the fact that the baddie, in all his delightful henchmen-iness, monologues enough to tell him it’s 50,000 volts, which sounds terrifyingly effective because . . . big number. But anyone with basic understanding of electricity knows it’s the amps baby, not the volts! That’s what does the damage. But, “200 milliamps motherf*cker” loses that certain badass flare.
One last bit about the taser. In the film, the device makes a sharp, ascending electrical charge sound before firing. This is sci-fiction. In real life, tasers emit a rapid clicking sound when delivering the juice. They are silent before being fired. Maybe in 2004 they invent one that takes care of all these issues. I can’t wait for the future!
Moving on. When Walker arrived at his house the evening before, his home’s automated voice says, “There are no new messages,” which seems kind of redundant as the very large TV monitor right beside the door also reads the same. But fine, we’ll accept that. My desktop computer alerts me with both visual and auditory alerts. Anyway, the swinging open door triggers the message, and we get that it’s an audio cue so later when the baddies break in, the voice will alert Walker. Two things though. First, the voice triggered well before the door was even fully ajar for Walker, but the two goons are inside and standing right on top of him before she speaks again. Maybe a faulty contact somewhere. And two, the voice doesn’t even wake him, the charge-up of the taser does.
You’re thinking, “Wait, cynical movie reviewers. They used time travel and just appeared in Walker’s room.” Yes! Why didn’t we think of that? Because we did. They didn’t. As seen throughout the film, time travel involves opening some bubbly warping vortexy thing, which, as regulated by the film, requires the user to arrive in a potentially dangerous but ultimately amusing destination. Granted, Walker’s apartment, with Walker inside, meets the definition of dangerous, but where’s the bubbly warping vortexy thing? Where’s the awkward landing in a tub full of water or on a stovetop burner?
And that brings us to the point about this movie and That Moment In Timecop. We’re not meant to care about these things. We want to see Van Damme tear it up, and here, he does. Magnificently.
Overall, the movie is a disappointment, despite some fun moments. While it features the action we’ve come to expect, the premise and talent both in front of and behind the camera inspired more hope for something better. Even with the time travel theme, it is hopelessly dated and unequivocally 90s. Ferris Bueller’s girlfriend, um, Mia Sara is left with nothing to do but fill in the mold to set off the revenge plot for Walker (Texas Ranger. You’ve been thinking it this whole time, don’t deny it). She is a walking cliché, most especially at the start where, wearing a face that can only mean one thing, she says to Walker, “I have something to tell you.” He of course must go to work and can’t even give her two minutes. And even though every single person in the audience knows exactly what she has to say, Muscles Brussles is oblivious. Hint: She’s pregnant.
Mia also gets clunky lines of dialogue, like “I can see into the future,” when she is playfully flirting with Walker about their relationship. Get it. Because it’s a time travel movie. Ha. Yuck. And worse, as it’s an action flick with an R-rating, she ends up showing partial nudity in a love scene so overdone there is a fork in it before a single candle is lit and the cheesy saxophone starts. Van Damme does have a firm tushy though. You could bounce a quarter off that thing. Why are we talking about this?
Back to the lovely Mia. We’re not dissing Ms Sara. She’s a good actress, but this is a thankless role. So . . . thank you, Mia Sara.
There’s a lot more 90s goodness than bad. Big, loud music, extras that seem to have no direction whatsoever, and one-liners and comebacks that are set up like bowling pins. We especially love this little ditty featuring punches accentuated by angry trumpets, machine gun fire that does nearly no damage but sparkle pretty, utterly inept door guards, soldiers catching fire, an overly complex mechanism that requires lots of flashing lights, a droning female voice giving step-by-step details of the process, a dying friend with snarky last words, a whiny pony-tailed computer geek . . . oh just watch.
There is lot of fun in watching Timecop if you let go and just take it for the popcorn pulp it was intended to be. Jean-Claude Van Damme was in his prime and looks great in the lead. We love all kinds of movies and have a special place in our hearts for a few of these actions films. Timecop tries to go beyond what audiences expected of Van Damme and yet its best parts are when it allows him to stick to what he does best.