Movies about time travel are always tricky as they eventually get tangled up in their own plots with people going back and forth and changing things. Even the sublime Back To The Future had some problems, and movies written by lesser talented writers even more. Timecop brings two things together: Jean-Claude van Damme and comic book adaptations. A curious combination, but it works out better than Pamela Anderson and comic book adaptations.
In Timecop Van Damme plays a cop in the near future of 2004(!), who’s enlisted with T.E.C. (Time Enforcement Commission). A division that monitors the abuse of time travel which was created the year time travel was invented which was ten years earlier when this movie was originally released. Since it’s almost 2013 my advice would be to ignore these dates since the movie’s depiction of 2004 is kind of off to say the least. Van Damme tracks down time criminals that create “ripples” in the past. Apparently people go back with knowledge about and weapons from the future and use that to have the upper hand in the past, whether that would be on the stock exchange or a simple robbery. The weird thing is that there is an agency that polices time travel, yet the movie clearly states that there are only two time travel modules. So how do all these people in 2004 go back into time? The only thing I could think of was that criminals from even further into the future have gotten their hands on time travel equipment. Van Damme ends up fighting a corrupt senator who uses time travel to help him win the presidential elections, and who is also responsible for killing Van Damme’s wife in 1994, something which Van Damme finds out ten years later and now has the possibility to prevent, but that would make him a time criminal as well.
Timecop never goes that deep, it poses the question but never really answers it. Van Damme’s character does everything by the book and seems to be incorruptible which is strange because breaking the law to save the life of your wife sure beats drinking hard every night and watching the same crappy home video over and over again. Yes, this is one of those movies that has a troubled cop as the main character.
Their are some strange stylistic choices made for the design of the future (which is still 2004): it’s full of weird armored cars that look really ugly and the whole time travel device is kind of strange. In 2004 you step into a shuttle that is launched inside of a tunnel which has a big wall at the end. When people are successfully launched they end up in the past without that shuttle. They just appear in mid-air above a pond or in front of a truck in the middle of the road. To get back they just press a button on a wristband. That poses questions like: where did the shuttle go, why do they always seems to appear at random places, and why can they travel to the future by simply pressing a button while they need to be launched when the go to the past? Despite this being a more intelligent movie for Van Damme, these kinds of details prevent it from being a really intelligent movie.
This movie is made during Van Damme’s mainstream years which started with Universal Soldier and ended at the end of the 90’s with movies like Legionnaire and Desert Heat. Looking back it’s one of his better ones. Despite a more convoluted story line than usual the movie provides Van Damme with enough scenes where he can do what he does best: punching, kicking and the split, which he does here memorably in a kitchen. The presence of actors like the late Ron Silver and Bruce McGill give this movie an extra layer of quality, the same goes for the money spent on special effects.
Timecop is not without its problems but together with Sudden Death it’s easily Van Damme’s most accessible movie and a fun early 90s flick.