"Timecop," directed in 1994 by Aussie import Peter Hyams and adapted from the Dark Horse comic book series co-created by Mike Richardson and Mark Verheiden (the pair share a credit on the screen-story, while Verheiden receives sole credit on the screenplay), is a bit of an anomaly in the long-running career of its star, Belgian martial arts sensation Jean-Claude Van Damme.
"Timecop" was, by far, the most interesting, in terms of its story concept, visuals, and special effects, of the films that Van Damme made during his heyday in the late 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s. "Timecop" was also Van Damme's most critically acclaimed and most commercially successful film made during that time (it became Van Damme's first and to date, only film to surpass $100 million at the box office).
Looking at the film, it's not hard to see why.
This big-budget martial arts sci-fi action-thriller is by no means perfect and from a historical standpoint does represent a critical and box office high point in the career of its star - but, boy, does it deliver the goods. Looking back, I remember that "Timecop" was one film that had a lot going for it - in spite of its glaring imperfections and monstrous gaps in logic, like its numerous leaps back and forth through time and the various time travel machinations associated with it (i.e., returning to the same present that you left from, and the such).
But let's not focus on that too much. Let's just concentrate on the story and Van Damme.
In the year 1994, the United States government establishes the "Time Enforcement Commission" (T.E.C.) to police time travel, which has only recently become a scientific reality. Government bureaucrats are worried that time travel needs to be policed, because if the wrong parties were able to travel back in time to change history - it could send ripples through time that could threaten the whole of our existence. (The film conveniently explains that leaps into the future are not possible simply because it has happened yet.)
Enter into the picture: clean-cut D.C. patrolman Max Walker (Van Damme) is about to accept a job as an agent working for the newly established T.E.C. when one night he and his wife Melissa (Mia Sara, from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off") are attacked by thugs from the future. The thugs happen to be working for Senator Aaron McComb (the late Ron Silver), an ambitious, power-hungry politician who was recently appointed to chair the T.E.C. and who in the year 2004 will enter a bid to run in that year's presidential election.
In the ensuing fray, Melissa is killed, and Walker is left a widower. 10 years later, Max is indeed now a dedicated, high-ranking officer with the T.E.C., busting time-traveling criminals left & right. In the course of collaring his former partner who has traveled back to the 1930s at the height of the Great Depression to play on the Stock Market in order make himself rich in the present, Walker uncovers a conspiracy that threatens the future: Senator McComb is manipulating time travel in order to buy his way into the White House, and wants the T.E.C. decommissioned in order to remove the greatest threat to his plans.
Predictably, in the course of Walker's time-traveling investigation into McComb's plot, he also stumbles onto his own tragic past and comes across a moral conundrum over whether or not to manipulate time to prevent his own personal tragedy from ever occurring - thus lending the film an emotional depth rare for Van Damme pictures made during his heyday.
"Timecop" is indeed a bit of a head-trip, though it isn't something that is too heady that you can't wrap your head around it. Although the film feels like a typical Van Damme outing, the time-bending plot and cool-looking time-bending (though dated) CGI effects make the film a visual and special effects marvel. Personally, this isn't my favorite Van Damme movie from that period - that honor goes to "Lionheart" (1990), followed by "Universal Soldier" (1992) and the John Woo-directed actioner "Hard Target" (1993).
Jean-Claude Van Damme is great, as usual, doing his usual high-kicking (and acrobatic trademark splits) heroics in a not-too-complicated time travel sci-fi story. Mia Sara, who hasn't appeared in too many movies since then, brings the film a warmth and beauty that's tragically missed in today's time. The real stand-out is Ron Silver as corrupt Senator McComb; Silver's natural charm gives McComb an arrogance and sliminess that makes him a more than worthy adversary to Van Damme's Max Walker (even if he doesn't match him physically). He's one of those guys you love to hate.
I can't end this review without putting in a plug for what I truly believe is Van Damme's greatest film ever, "JCVD" (2008), which is where you'll see a different side of Jean-Claude Van Damme, and that is a performance from the Belgian martial artist that is worthy of an Oscar. Really.
Time told of "JCVD."