You wouldn’t think that there would be much to thank the 1994 adaptation of Street Fighter for, but despite being a stunning turkey fueled by a cocaine blizzard, it made enough money to keep Jean Claude Van Damme temporarily in the big leagues. Of course, during the 90’s, the muscles from Brussels was on something of a hot streak after the back to back hits of Universal Soldier and Hard Target guaranteed that his varying versions of the splits were continued to be seen by a cinema audience. But while Universal Soldier had the benefit of JCVD fighting a zombiefied Dolph Lundgren and Hard Target had John Woo making his high kicking the best they’ve ever looked, 1994’s Timecop gave him a kind of plot unlike any he’d ever spin kicked before – one with motherfucking time travel…
Guess what, bitches, time travel is real and to police it the government form the T.E.C. (Time Enforcement Commission) is formed at great expense to stop terrorists and various bad guys bouncing all across the timeline to perform retroactive assassinations and traceless robberies. The top cop in this sci-fi area is the large haired Max Walker, a dedicated officer who has thrown himself obsessively into his work after his wife was murdered by mystery assailants ten years ago despite the rules stating that it is forbidden to change the past in any way.
After a quick jaunt to 1929 to stop a crooked ex-cop financially benefiting from from the stock market crash, Walker learns that a crooked senator named McComb has been bankrolling excursions into the past in order to fund his bid to run for president.
The fact that Max has no evidence whatsoever doesn’t stop McComb sending various heavy-browed thugs to take care of this limber lose end and Max vows to uncover more evidence at any cost. However, McComb is pushing for the TEC to be shut down for good, claiming the expenses for policing time are too damn high when it would be cheaper to just prevent it and to make matters worse, internal affairs are sniffing around the fact that the guy from 1929 was Max’s ex-partner.
Saddled with a new partner in the form of Sarah Fielding, Max heads back ten years prior to thwart the latest attempt of McComb to score much needed funds but after a double cross a blind man could see coming, Max returns to find a changed future with his sadistic, smarmy nemesis a shoo-in for the White House.
Making one last last ditch attempt to set things right, Walker once again bounces back a decade to find out that future events may have been responsible for his wife’s murder – will this knowledge finally free him to save his wife while stoving political heads in?
Despite being based on the Dark Horse comic book by Mike Richardson, Mark Verheiden and Ron Randall, Timecop has a suprising amount in common with Steven Spielberg’s 2005 adaptation of Phillip K. Dick’s Minority Report. Both include a driven officer based in Washington DC who, after a devastating personal loss, has thrown themself into a morally complex form of futuristic law enforcement only to find that it’s been corrupted by the very people whose as supposed to be running it. Now I’m not one to suggest that Spielberg stole from a Van Damme movie (more likely Richardson and Verheiden nicked from Dick) but the sheer amount of tiny details are actually quite intriguing.
However, if the details are suspiciously similar, the execution couldn’t be far more different as Timecop rockets through its plot so fast, its 99 minutes feels barely like 60. It’s like the hack-directorial work of the late, great Peter Hyams has absolutely no patience for any fat on the script whatsoever and demands the film be as lean as the physique of its thick accented lead and so, amusingly, the villain’s plan is easily given up by a time travelling subordinate virtually within the first twenty minutes. Despite this noticeable lack of subtlety, Timecop contains various digs at politics buried in news reports and in throwaway lines of dialogue, but then who needs them when your slimy senator villain is played by the dead eyed, reptilian charm of Ron Silver.
As Hyams previously directed the sci-fi Sean Connery vehicle Outland and the pointless 2001: A Space Odyssey sequel 2010: The Year We Make Contact, Timecop is possibly the best looking Van Damme movie ever made and while his frantic, Tony Scott style cutting chops the fights into chunky brawls that barely contains a single move per edit, he can still cut a hell of a punch and while the bruising fights may not be as smooth as The Raid, they’re still brutal enough to be entertaining with one guy memorably getting despatched thanks to Walker booting his arm into icy fucking fragments after the unfortunate limb is given a blast of liquid nitrogen
As a bonus, we even get Van Damme’s most famous bout of the splits the actor performed in his career with him splaying himself between kitchen counters to avoid a taser.
Van Damme amittedly himself handles the non fighting moments well as most of the heavier exposition is handed over by cast members with – shall we say – lighter accents and the script contains some entertainingly stylized dialogue. When someone notices that Fielding’s heart rate is alarmingly high before a launch though time he states: “If she farts she’ll get ahead of the pod.”.
Make no mistake though, Timecop is pure, pulp fun and should be treated as such thanks to some dated movie tropes – a saxophone playing over a sex scene? We have gone back in time! – and a virtual legion of plot holes to keep to scratching your head if you make the mistake of pondering the plot for longer than a second. If time travel involves being launched down a track in a rocket powered pod, where in hell does the pod go when they appear at the other end? Why does the double crossing Sarah Fielding jump sides so easily? Why does every thug from the future have such godawful hair? Why does nothing else in the future look futuristic expect for Walker’s awful car that looks like it was towed in from an old episode of Captain Scarlet?…
Pondering this shit may make you wonder why I rated Timecop so high (maybe Van Damme went back in time and altered it) but there’s something about this unpretentious action/sci-fi that’s incredibly easy to watch and thanks to Hyams flashy approach to such a silly film (something he repeated over the next couple of years with Sudden Death, The Relic and End Of Days) still ranks among Van Damme’s best efforts thanks to the fact that it stands the test of Timecop…