If I could redo my college thesis, I’d skip over the deformed-step-child-of-Hemingway creative writing project and undertake a comprehensive analysis of the time travel movie genre in Hollywood. In lieu of some assistance from a Flux Capacitor-equipped DeLorean or a George Carlin-provided phone booth, I think my only viable option is to devote my first Sick Day Stash to an underrated gem of the field: Jean-Claude Van Damme’s bundle of schlocky goodness, “Timecop.”
Here’s what you need to know: Van Damme’s Max Walker works for the Time Enforcement Commission, an ultra-secretive government agency set up to make sure nobody screws with the past, creating a “ripple” that can futz with the space-time continuum. Ron Silver’s corrupt, hot-blooded Senator Aaron McComb is dead set on creating a whole lot of ripples as he attempts to enrich his younger self and bankroll a future presidential run. It’s your standard sci-fi/political/crime-caper/thriller/action flick. This is why I love it so dearly…
Gaze in Awe Into These Plot Holes
The time travel rules that “Timecop” sets up are fairly arbitrary—time is linear and you can’t go forward because the future hasn’t happened yet—and they’re just as arbitrarily broken. Not 10 minutes after this ironclad edict is laid down, bad guys from the future show up to screw with Van Damme’s life. But I thought you just said…
This is only the most glaring plot hole in a movie pocked with them. But ya know what? I don’t care! Better the cheerfully unapologetic verve of “Timecop” than the brooding incoherence of a futuristic film like “Terminator Salvation.” “Timecop,” if you will, comes from a different time and place, before ubiquitous bloggy nitpicking, before a sci-fi flick had to have a huge budget or be super-edgy to be enjoyed.
So too it is with Van Damme: he could never be a breakout action star today because what he does and who he is – it’s all simply too far outside the realm of believability. But in 1994, Van Damme still could lay down a roundhouse kick to my soul and to this day I heart this movie, flaws and all, like Hemingway’s oeuvre or my mother’s brisket.
Going Back, Back, Back, Back, Back
Each time travel movie has its idiosyncratic method for doin’ the central deed. Some go flashy (“Back to the Future”), some are grounded in wonky PhD-level computations (“Primer”), others are simply lazily nonsensical (“The Butterfly Effect,” “The Jacket”). “Timecop” goes with something best described as a flaming supersonic sled. Not glamorous, but suitably intense when Van Damme shoots toward a cement wall in an approach that has left skittish agents with their brains splattered all over the room.
Time travelers somehow appear on the other side without a sled, cool as could be, stepping though a warping bubble with a witty line to deliver once they arrive. Luckily, getting back to the present from the past is literally as easy as pushing a button, which may not make much sense but is certainly rad when Van Damme can jump out a window after a double agent trying to commit suicide, catch him mid-air and haul him back through time.
Ron Silver is the Man
What’s amazing is Silver doesn’t seem to realize he’s in a Van Damme action flick. He plays the far-right McComb with such menacing gravitas, such seething contempt for everyone around him, I get the idea Silver was really only using “Timecop” as an audition for the next Oliver Stone picture. Even Silver’s Emmy-nominated turn on “The West Wing” as a soulless political operative can’t match his staggering portrayal of McComb. The senator browbeats his younger self, slams his assistant’s head into a car door and offers Van Damme the best bit of career advice I’ve ever heard: “You’re a f—ing idiot who never figured out that the only way to make anything of himself with all that fancy kicking is on Broadway!”
Oh, Sloan Dear!
Yup, none other than Mia Sara, Ferris Bueller’s game-for-anything sweetheart Sloane Peterson, plays Van Damme’s wife. Now, imdb.com tells me the lovely actress has appeared many a time on the big and small screen, but every time I see Van Damme saddle up behind her, I think, “How dare that dude steal Ferris’ girl!” But then I think, “Why is this French guy named Max Walker?” and the nonsensical Hollywood universe falls back into place.
Extra special bonus points for gratuitous nudity: out of nowhere the Walkers are in the midst of a late-night Showtime hump session, complete with cheeseball sax solo, flickering candles and… and… Sloan’s boob!
The Art of Van Dammage
This may be Jean-Claude’s most narratively dense action flick, but he makes sure to serve up the balletic martial arts moves, the neck-snapping, the mid-fight quips we demand from all his films. His finest “Timecop” brawl ends when the action star jumps into the air and does a split onto his kitchen countertop to avoid a taser that ends up electrocuting his adversary. Then Van Damme just hangs out in split mode, observing his handiwork and kinda thinking, “Yeah, even I thought that was pretty freaking badass.”
So did I, Jean-Claude, so did I. And you can too: the entire movie can be streamed off the Internet.