Timecop (1994) (part 1 of 7)
With the start of a new year, many take the time to reflect on past experiences, as well as look forward to the coming year. In the spirit of looking backward and also forward at the same time, it seems appropriate to examine a film that does the same. So come along with me as I skip back across the eons, and see what kind of mischief can be caused by monkeying around in the past!
When it comes to the subject of time travel, some of the most esteemed minds in history have made valiant attempts at unraveling all the implications of the concept. There have been entire schools of thought dedicated to the possibilities of time travel, drawing upon a variety of subjects like relativity, string theory, and quantum physics, and boasting followers among the ranks of the world’s most famous academics and theoreticians—everyone from Einstein and Godel to contemporary thinkers like Hawking and Ivan Novikov.
Hollywood, meanwhile, chose to explore the concept with a sub-literate kick-boxer.
Jean-Claude Van Damme is well known as a pure action performer. He received some cautiously positive reviews for his work in Timecop. Part of that may be due to him showing growth as a performer, and part of it may be due to his performance seeming measured and straightforward compared to a script that makes no sense. Sadly, JCVD still has his trademark handicapped diction in this movie, sounding often like he has a Belgian waffle parked in his jaw.
Timecop was directed by Peter Hyams, who would later go on to direct the mega-bomb A Sound of Thunder. And Timecop actually makes that film seem even worse, because it was made nine years later, and it’s almost the exact same movie as Timecop, and yet Hyams somehow made the idea suck even more.
So here we have a complex theme, a half-hearted performer, a hit-or-miss director, and a ton of money blown on special effects without regards to telling a logical story. What could go wrong?
One thing’s for certain: With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that maybe adapting a comic book as a star vehicle for a guy who can’t even be bothered to take speech classes, let alone hire an acting coach, may not have been the wisest of choices. It does make for some fun, however, so no hitting the fast-forward button.
We begin on a rainy scene. A team of horses slowly travels down a muddy track beside a river. A title card comes up, letting us know we’re in Gainesville, Georgia, in the year 1863. A team of five muddy Confederate soldiers slows down as they encounter a lone figure in a black duster standing in their path. He greets them warmly, displaying a gap in his teeth where he’s missing a canine. I might suspect he’s a member of the Atlanta Thrashers, except that team won’t exist for another 130 years.
The wet stranger says he’s a friend of the Confederacy, and then he references a shipment of gold he knows they’re carrying. He has a polite request: Instead of bringing the treasure to General Lee, they should give it to him. I’m sure the guy is up to no good, but then again, the Confederacy was all about continuing the enslavement of a race, cleaving the Union in two, and promoting a cuisine involving deep fried entrails. So I’m kind of torn on who to pull for here.
The guy amiably asks the soldiers once again for the gold shipment. He’s extremely polite, this one. However, his cordiality is met with hostility, despite what finishing schools preach on such matters. Granted, there is a civil war going on right now; Etiquette is always the first casualty.
The soldiers draw their weapons, but before they can so much as set a flintlock ablaze, the stranger draws on them with a pair of laser-sighted submachine guns. Wow. This is a real head-scratcher, isn’t it? Oh wait, look, the title of this movie is “Timecop”; I bet that has something to do with the inclusion of such a blatant anachronism.
Next, we drop in on present day Washington, D.C. Well, “present day” being 1994, of course. Another title card tells us that we’re in the presence of the SENATE OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE COVERT OPERATIONS. A group of administration officials are here to get funding from the committeepersons, the lead suit being a stiff Ivy League type named George who loves to use the word “utmost”. This guy serves his country well, mostly by explaining for the citizens watching (and us in the audience) the entire backstory needed to understand the film.
A scientist has perfected time travel, they are told. George lays out how you can’t move forward in time, because the future hasn’t happened yet, but you can travel back, and this creates problems. You could kill Hitler, he suggests, but you must not, because the ripple effect would endanger all of mankind.
Because of this danger, George wants to form the Time Enforcement Commission (that’s the TEC to you) to police time. And he wants Officer Matuzak, seated beside him, to run the show. When talk gets around to the cost of all this bureaucracy, George unspools a series of dire scenarios about what could happen if our enemies were able to travel back in time: they could get hold of the Bomb, or invent the airplane. No one suggests they could put a stop to the production of Matt Houston, however, so I guess only bad things could conceivably happen.