Plot: In the year 2004, time travel is a reality. As a member of the Time Enforcement Commission, police officer Max Walker (Van Damme), while still recovering from the shocking death of his wife (Sara) a decade earlier, is on the hunt for a politician (Silver) who is altering history to finance his presidential campaign.
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Back when action star Jean-Claude Van Damme was in his heyday, he made quite a few movies. Frankly, a lot of them weren’t that good (similar to Steven Seagal). However, among all the rubbish, there were a few that still stick in my head as being actually decent: Sudden Death (1995), and Timecop.
I’d already re-visited Sudden Death (1995) and enjoyed it. So, I figured it was time to re-visit Timecop and see why I found that film memorable, even 15 years later. Was it the action sequences? The storyline? Or was it the characters that made that movie stand out amongst Van Damme’s roles? Or would this re-visit point out the unremembered flaws of the pic?
Van Damme, like fellow action stars Stallone, Chan, Li and Schwarzenegger, has a bit of trouble with the English language. Apparently back in the 80’s/early 90’s, however, viewers were looking for high-octane foreigners to help them live out their action fantasies on-screen. That must have been the case, as Van Damme and his co-horts never seemed to be hurting for work, and their films were, for the most part, a big success.
In Timecop, Van Damme still has that thick Belgian accent. Part of what sets the film apart from the rest of his roles is the film’s ability to recognize that accent, rather than just simply overlook it. At one point, after having successfully stopped a purse thief, Van Damme says “he must have read my mind”. His wife (played by Mia Sara) replies “The way you speak English, he’d have to.” With that, the film not only acknowledges his thick accent, but also pokes fun at it – and does so in a way that makes the viewer feel like Van Damme is chuckling along with them.
One of Van Damme’s usual downfalls is his lack of emotion. Whether he’s kicking and punching his way through one enemy or a thousand, his face is normally set in a stony expression. So much so, the viewer may get the impression that he might have been a better choice for Schwarzenegger’s iconic Terminator role than ol’ Arnie himself. Timecop gets around this pitfall too. The film creates a storyline where his character needs a lot of steely determination to do what has to be done. With that, the viewer finally feels like that stony expression actually fits the role.
TimeCop gets some help from Van Damme’s co-stars, too. With some quick impressions by familiar faces like Mia Sara (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986)), Gloria Reuben (ER (TV)) and Bruce McGill (The Last Boy Scout (1991)), there are great bit parts being played out on-screen. Thanks to them, Jean-Claude has the added benefit of decent co-stars flitting in and out of the picture. They both distract the viewer from Van Damme’s flaws and help the film move quickly along.
The bad guy himself is rather uninspiring, even when played with some villainy by Ron Silver. Even back then, a corrupt politician as the villain was old. Still, he does provide a worthy bit of adversity for Van Damme, more for what he represents than who he is. It’s Van Damme vs. the System – and while that may be old hat too, rooting against the System will always find a place in films. After all, who doesn’t like rooting for an underdog, especially against a faceless government entity? Also, since the corrupt politician is s a representative of the System, he can send countless foes against our hero – faceless bad guys by the dozen whose only purpose is to take out the hero. Simple, yet still effective.
The action scenes, while exciting enough with their mix of high kicks, gun battles, hand-to-hand combat and the famous Van Damme splits, aren’t exactly superb. But they do differ enough from each other to keep viewers entertained anew with every sequence. That doesn’t mean some of them aren’t patently ridiculous: at one point, Van Damme uses one knife to fight off a man equipped with two knives, and for a good 30 seconds, barely moves his knife at all, letting the other man use both of his to attack Van Damme’s knife instead of Van Damme himself. Thankfully, they have enough quirks (a taser backfires against an opponent, for example) to keep viewers happy.
With it’s happy mix of action and sci-fi, it’s ability to put Van Damme’s usual flaws to good use, appearances from a few familiar faces, and the tried and true one vs. The System theme, Timecop is a solid action pic. True, it is a bit dated (it’s futuristic cars, especially, should tickle viewers today, considering these high-tech automobiles exist in the “futuristic” world of 2004). But the special effects haven’t lost any impact over time, and the film remains enjoyable even today.
Re-visit Timecop for yourself with a bag or two of freshly popped corn, and see if you don’t enjoy it too. And for the ultimate Van Damme double feature? Follow it up with Sudden Death (1995).