Bad Movie Tuesday: Timecop (1994), Jean-Claude Van Damme travels through time and does splits.
MY CALL: More of a fun “action” movie than a “martial arts” movie, this is LOADED with cheeky lines and “most” of the JCVD staples. But if you seek jump spin kicks, you should watch his earlier movies instead. MOVIES LIKE Timecop: Other Van Damme movies, of course! Especially Bloodsport (1988), Lionheart (1990) and The Quest (1996), which all feature hush-hush Fight Clubs that can’t keep a secret. But maybe this movie isn’t bad enough for you and you want something a bit more “campy bad.” If that’s the case, try China O’Brien (1990), Outside the Law (2002), Night Vision (1997) or Only the Strong (1993) for your Bad Movie Tuesday.
Timecop boldly opens, challenging its viewers by posing the question: If a bunch of Confederate gold is highjacked by a time traveler during a wagon trail hold-up in 1800s Georgia, does anyone care? Well, since all that did was remind me of the displaced silliness of laser guns in Cowboys and Aliens (2011), I’m gonna’ say no. But honestly it was kind of a cool scene that, despite my joking, opened the movie with a bit of integrity.
But now we need to put on our serious faces and explain the “rules of changing the past” to set the urgency of the film. “What if Saddam Hussein time travels to steal our atomic bomb technology to become a world power” and blah, blah blah, end of mankind, “ripples” in time are bad… And now there’s now been a ripple when some terrorists (present day) were found brokering an arms deal with confederate gold.
Is that a Stargate?
So now it’s time to create the Time Enforcement Commission (TEC) to essentially police time travel…with “time cops.” From proposal of the TEC to appointing a chairperson takes about 6 minutes tops, making this the fastest act of legislation ever in the history of all things government—even the most insane dictators would think things over (like newly appointed commissions) during the course of a drink. I don’t think John Hancock signed his name in the time it took to convince a table of DC bigwigs that time travel technology was invented (without them knowing anything about it) and it “just happened last week!!!!”
They just nod like “sounds reasonable” after they are informed they “know” the gold is from the 1800s not just because of how it was marked (Property of the Confederacy or whatever), but because they carbon dated the aforementioned highjacked gold. But wait… Can you carbon date pure gold???? Guess what, writers of Timecop? You simply cannot carbon date things that don’t have carbon. You don’t get to waive your hands in the air and say we know “because SCIENCE that’s why!” As it goes, you can only “carbon” date things that have carbon in them. And since gold is made of…waiiiiit for it…GOLD (Au 79) and not CARBON isotope C-14, you can’t use carbon dating to estimate its age.
But let’s try to forget for a moment that our writers failed their 8th grade Physical Science midterm and focus on the story. Our hero is Max Walker (Jean-Claude Van Damme; Bloodsport, The Expendables 2, Universal Solder: Day of Reckoning), a cop with an incredibly American sounding name, an incredibly unexplained Belgian accent, an incredibly beautiful wife and an incredibly unbelievably huge house for his civil servant job in the greater DC metro area.
“Between the lines.”
“I should get the Fuck outta here.”
We meet Max playing out some fantasy roleplay in the middle of a mall with his wife (Mia Sara; Legend, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) when he pulls an awesome little scene out of nowhere with a steady kick held in a rollerblading purse snatcher’s face. Some ostentatiously crooked looking goons oversee the event and seem unimpressed with his obvious glute strength and balance. It’s a pretty iconic scene—that and the washer/dryer jump split make for some exquisite trailer moments.
Thank you, by the way, to the writers and Mia Sara and Van Damme for acknowledging and playfully mocking Van Damme’s English. “He read my mind…With your English he didn’t have much choice…Hey, I know all the good words.”
On that note, this movie is loaded with some great 90s action movie lines…
“Is this TEC work dangerous?”
“I don’t bake cookies for a living.”
But Van Damme’s movies are known for more than thick European accents being applied to American characters delivering cheeky lines. He’s also known for his surprisingly tender love scenes that might just be presented as much for the ladies as the men (e.g., Double Impact, Bloodsport). JCVD’s Kenny G-scored love scene comes complete with iconic Van Damme bare butt shot for the ladies, some Mia Sara nudity for the bros, and soft lighting for the production geeks. On top of that, it’s filmed and scored like softcore porn on late night Skinemax.
Director Peter Hyams (A Sound of Thunder, Sudden Death, The Relic) knows how to deliver what Van Damme fans want! And that does not include a very sound story. We are rich with clichés as the bad guys kill his wife and needlessly explode his giant house, the time travel portals conveniently appear wherever they are needed and smack of the subsequent show Sliders (1995-2000 Sci-Fi Channel; which may have copied Timecop, in fact), and I don’t even have an explanation for Van Damme’s hair.
When I see her face it reminds me…
of when Quaid wanted Cohaagen to give the people da’ air!
The thing that really makes this highly rewatchable movie work is that Van Damme is clearly having fun with this role—as he often does with his cheeky charm. This is most evident during his first time travel fight scene in Wall Street. His cheeky lines, his sudden straddle dodge, his stick strike to the nuts—sometimes I imagine they had to do extra takes because he’d burst out into laughter. The kicks in the face are numerous, so are the gunfire evasive dive rolls, and I’m happy for Van Damme. His career never saw paydays like Schwarzenegger or Stallone, but he always seemed to embrace his characters (at least, up until this point in his career).
About now I’d like to pause and assess how we know this is a bad movie (as if it wasn’t yet obvious):
How was there not a single jump spin kick in this entire movie!?!?!?! That’s JCVD’s thing! Also, much to my surprise, there is very little in terms of sweaty biceps shots. #JumpSpinKickFAIL
This takes place in “the future” in 2004. Man, I can’t wait for 2004! The cars may look like Back to the Future’s DeLorean and Total Recall’s Johnny Cab had a mutant baby… but they drive themselves! And the TV and voicemail in his house are voice-command.
There are these two goons with matching death metal hair and giant twin hoop earrings. Shouldn’t goons of high level criminals be more discrete? So was this like a thematic rematch of sorts?
After being found guilty of “time travel with the intent to alter the future” a guy is sentenced to death. But the death is carried out by letting him fall from a building in 1929 where he was impersonating a Wall Street investor. Wouldn’t that alter the future? When 1929 cops cannot link this supposedly wealthy investor to anyone who actually existed? Isn’t that sort of a big ripple. Oh, and he did already buy 100,000 shares of oil stock. What about those ripples? Jobs, the economy, increased financial disparity between classes…? Jobs and money affecting if certain parents ever met and had kids…like so the kid who grew up to invent time travel would have never been born because his dad didn’t get “that” job and meet “that” woman at “that” time.
The evil presidential hopeful slams his consultant’s head into a car window for giving him bad news. I love this!
Watch out for the knife fight in the kitchen fight scene. They replay the same set of attacks/parries 2-4 times back to back really fast as if we wouldn’t notice…just like they replayed the same jump spin kick footage (vs Chong Li) in Bloodsport…just like they replayed the same stunts (vs China) and punch combo (vs Khan) footage in The Quest. This wasn’t the only Timecop offense, the girl’s (Gloria Reuben; Robot, Falling Skies, Silk Stalkings) palm strike and some rainy finale punching were replayed, too. Was this common in 80s and 90s action movies, or does Van Damme just get too tired to film more moves? Adding insult to injury, the Asian knife fighter outspinkicks Van Damme’s spin kick! #SpinKickFAIL #KnifeFightFAIL #ReplayFAIL
Also during that knife fight Van Damme seems to “parry” several attacks in a row by simply holding the knife perfectly still in front of his face as if it was a powerful magnet! LOL. Terrible! #ParryFAIL
Evidently if you expose water to 50K volts of electricity, it can hold the charge and electrocute someone several seconds later. #PhysicsFAIL
I don’t think their time travel launch car ever hit 88 mph! #BacktotheFutureFAIL
Did they rip off the launch car from The Running Man (1987).
“Never interrupt me when I’m talking to myself.” An incredibly silly line delivered by the villain with an incredibly straight face.
No one can deny that the liquid nitrogen arm shatter scene was a blatant (and playful) rip-off of Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). Not gonna’ lie, I laughed.
Okay, I am now CERTAIN that Van Damme gets the giggles over hitting people in the balls. In The Quest the Chinese fighter monkey punches the Brazilian in the balls and the Scottish guy loses to a punch to the balls right under the kilt from the Turk. In Bloodsport the Sumo wrestler gets punched in the nuts by the African monkey boy and a Van Damme split testicular uppercut. And now in Timecop, Van Damme whips a guy in the balls with a stick and then two guys get shot in the balls during the rainy rooftop finale.
“The same matter cannot occupy the same space at the same time.” Three times we are informed of this! But at least by the third we got some awful effects as the bad guy ate it and melted into pink ooze.
For the most part, this is not a movie for technical fight choreography snobs who live for the likes of Tony Jaa (Ong Bak), Scott Adkins (Undisputed 2-3, Universal Solder: Day of Reckoning), Michael Jai White (Undisputed 2, Blood and Bone), Jason Statham (Mechanic: Resurrection), or Iko Uwais (The Raid: Redemption). There’s nothing particularly wowing about the martial arts. However, a few stunts steal the show. We mentioned the washer/dryer jump split, he makes good use of a towel and an over-the-arm kick to the face, and the quality of the fights was highly satisfying. But I’d call these “action movie fights” more than “martial arts movie” fights, if you feel my drift.
Van Damme ends up saving the day by stopping an evil time travelling senator from buying the presidency and, along the way, he hits 3 out of 4 on the Van Damme staples: a Belgian butt shot (with Mia Sara), splits during a fight (x2), tandem jump spin kicks (sadly absent), and a sappy closing scene with the subject of his motivation (his son whom he meets for the first time).
Most of Van Damme’s pre-1995 movies have high rewatchability, and this is no exception. In fact, this JCVD movie had quite a bit of Schwarzenegger style and appeal to it, making Van Damme feel like a more typical action hero than normal. I highly recommend it to anyone who ever liked pretty much any Van Damme movie.
If you enjoy this stuff please buy it, watch it, then join our nostalgia by listening to our Van Damme podcast episode!