Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

JCVD-A-THON: Timecop (1994)

In 1994, Jean Claude Van Damme was ready to break into the mainstream. He had plenty of success with smaller movies, kicking people in the face through films with progressively higher budgets. Meanwhile, a trend was appearing in mainstream action flicks, one that dominates the genre to this day: Superhero movies. The two inevitably met. That’s right, kids. “Timecop” is based off a comic book, albeit one with few issues and published by Dark Horse. Combining Jean-Claude’s proficiency at face-kicking with the thrills of comic book writing was a good move for both parties. “Timecop” led to more comics, a sequel, books, and even a short-lived TV show. Van Damme, meanwhile, got the biggest hit of his career.

In the year 1994, time travel has been invented. A government agency, the Time Enforcement Commission, is quickly created to regulate time travel. This is important, as criminals immediately begin to manipulate time for their own benefits. One agent for the TEC is Max Walker. Years before, Walker’s beloved wife was killed during a mysterious home invasion, a tragedy he’s never recovered from. During an arrest, a former TEC member implements Senator Aaron McComb in time crimes. Soon, Max uncovers a conspiracy revolving McComb, time travel, and the death of his wife.

Time travel is one of those sturdy sci-fi concepts writers never tire of toying with. “Timecop” definitely has some fun with the idea of time traveling criminals. The film opens with a bad guy wielding futuristic machine guns back in the Civil War. Later, we see a white collar Wall Street crook manipulating the stock market crash of the ‘20s for his own gain. The mechanics of time travel are fairly absurd. A rocket sled launches towards a brick wall. (Why a wall? Why not a cushion?) Inside, the riders’ faces contort and twist in a way that reminded me of Content Aware Scaling. Before impact, the machine passes through a rippling dimensional bubble, dropping the passengers off in the past. Maybe the coolest trick comes when someone from the past bumps into someone from the future. Since the same matter can’t occupy the same space, the results are rather grisly. At least as grisly as early nineties CGI can be.

The time travel aspect adds an interesting gimmick to the film. The sci-fi plot is glossy enough that “Timecop” doesn’t even feel like a down-and-dirty Van Damme flick. It still has to satisfy the performer’s fans. So a number of ridiculously action scenes coexist awkwardly with the rest of the movie. Twice, he does a split to avoid an attack. An earlier scene has him whacking a boxer with broken batons. A shoot-out in a laboratory features some John Woo-esque gunfire and dramatic diving, climaxing in a guy being frozen alive. The silliest, and therefore most entertaining, fight comes when some thugs attack Walker in his apartment. Wearing only a pair of tiny boxers, Van Damme kicks, knife-fights, and splits his way through the conflict. It finishes with a guy getting kicked through the wall. It’s awesome. Though he’s never been great with one-liners, the script gives Jean-Claude a few really silly ones. Which do you prefer? “I must be on Broadway!” Or “I should’ve said “Freeze!?””

While the film plays to JCVD’s strengths, it also features some other competing tones. The movie is technically a romance as well. The romantic scenes between Van Damme and Mia Sara, such as the two flirting in a mall, don’t work fantastically. Jean-Claude seems uncomfortable with the actress. Sara doesn’t have a bead on the material. Their love scene is hilariously overwrought. The last act of “Timecop” takes place inside the couple’s home. These scenes features comparatively few drop kicks and splits. Instead, the movie starts to feel more like a thriller. The stormy location and dark photography supports this. It ends the movie on a bit of a whimper.

Sara might be a bit uncertain but the rest of “Timecop’s” supporting cast is aces. Ron Silver plays the bad guy, the evil senator, and goes delightfully over the top. Silver has always been at his best when playing greasy scumbags. The part, the type of politicians typical of this genre, plays to these strengths. Silver’s best moments come when he chastises his younger, less evil version. Bruce McGill, sans distinctive facial hair, plays Walker’s boss and brings some nice depth to the part. I also like Gloria Reuben as Max’s morally ambiguous partner. If the movie was smart, it would have dismissed the dead wife and shipped the hero with Reuben. She has far more chemistry with Van Damme then Sara does.

While the romantic subplot and sometimes unsteady mixture of tones drags it down a bit, “Timecop” is fairly consistently entertaining. The film received some of the better reviews of Van Damme’s career. Mia Sara even won a Saturn Award, for some reason. This, combined with the bigger budget and studio backing, probably explains why it became the star’s biggest hit. Like so many of Van Damme's nineties flicks, "Timecop" has developed a cult following over the years. Since even mildly successful properties rarely rest in Hollywood, now a remake is planned. Ditch the romance, get Scott Adkins to star, and you might have something there. [7/10]

[THE VAN DAMMAGE: 3 outta 5]
[X] An Entire Fight, Sans Shirt
[] Close-Up Screaming
[] Dancing
[X] Jump-Kicks A Guy, Through Something
[X] Performs Either a Split or a Spinning Roundhouse Kick

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