Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison. It may not keep me sane, but it will probably always involve one guy shouting, “This doesn’t make any sense!” And that’s good enough for me.

TIMECOP (1994)

“They killed his wife ten years ago. There’s still time to save her.” Ahhh, Timecop. Let’s face it, this really needs to be reviewed in the category “Van Damme” rather than “time travel,” but here we go. Jean-Claude “plays” Max Walker, an agent for the Time Enforcement Commission. Using crazy rocket sleds, it’s their job to blast into the past to stop anyone attempting to alter time. Doing so is highly illegal, which presents Walker with a quandary when, while on an official TEC mission to prevent a man from becoming president, he realizes he may be able to save the life of his deceased wife. Also, he does splits.

Timecop begins promisingly enough. We see a guy steal gold from some soldiers in 1863 using machine guns. Yup. Can’t screw this up. Give me two hours of shit like that and we’re golden.

Alas, it isn’t meant to be. After that nut punch of an opening scene, we go to a government meeting in 1994 on how time travel works. See, you can’t go forward, because the future hasn’t happened yet. Actual quote. So, from the point of view of those dead guys in 1863, where did their murderer come from?

Enough thinking for one movie, show me Van Damme kicking a guy on rollerblades.

Okay, so maybe it’s more complicated than that, but you have to dumb down the science for a politician. (You also need to applaud Scott Lawrence for giving all this exposition with a straight face.) That meeting leads to the creation of the Time Enforcement Commission. Immediately after Walker joins the TEC, his wife is murdered. Our story jumps ahead to 2004, where we see Walker as a timecop at the top of his game. He bubbles his way into 1929 to stop a stock market time-scheme, and the usual batch of Van Damme punchery and kickification is served.

The whole plot turns out to be the starting point for a complex plan to get Senator Aaron McComb (Ron Silver) elected president, and the first wave of this attack is to earn a ton of dough off of the stock market crash. At this point you might wonder… how do they know who’s doing what when?

I must admit, I’m a little shaky on the rules here. It seems they have a magic computer that tells the TEC when somebody arrives in the past. We see the agents crowded around it while the boss gives them dates and locations. So sure, tell me it’s a “radiation spike” or “temporal echoes” or “fourth dimension skidmarks,” whatever, but it seems the present doesn’t change automatically. So… what’s the window on this effect? Does it unfold in real time? If terrorists go back to 1950 and it takes them an hour to build the bomb that blows up the White House, does the TEC have one hour to stop them? Well, they don’t bother explaining it very well, so I don’t bother caring.

Van Damme’s mission eventually sees him gaining a partner and riding a time sled to 1994, where he finds 2004 McComb trying to stop 1994 McComb from losing his money investing in a computer company. This is, admittedly, a pretty interesting idea. You don’t often get to see a villain argue with himself over his big evil plan.

The inspiration for Just for Men Touch of Gray.

Another interesting aspect of the story is that timecops can return from missions to find that the present is not how they left it. When Walker comes back from his ’94 mission, his boss is no longer good friends with him. That’s a weird thing to wrap your head around. Walker convinces the boss that they’re pals by accurately insulting his wife’s cooking. There are more changes in store, but I’ll let you see them for yourself when you have your next Shitty ’90s Action Movie Weekend. Timecop should pair nicely with Judge Dredd.

What is this section even doing in this article? It’s a Van Damme flick. His accent is thick and he reacts to everything exactly the same: “Do I smile at it or punch it?” At one point, he says, “I’ll come back as many times as it takes,” but I heard, “I’ll come back on meat times as the dicks.”

His wife, Mia Sara, is also a bust, though her and Van Damme convey the emotion “naked” fairly well. Ron Silver is a great villain, but you knew that already.

There are two categories of special effect in Timecop. The first is the use of motion control cameras and mattes for the “time-double” effect whenever there’s more than one Silver or Van Damme in a scene. These are absolutely incredible. My gathering of cynics couldn’t spot any visible outlines whatsoever. There were very slight color differences, but they were the least noticeable I’ve seen for the time period.

The other category is this bullshit.


I’m sure that might have been mind-blowing in 1994, but it’s laughable today. I’ve always been a fan of subtle time travel effects because, after all, aren’t you essentially just doing a real-life jump cut? But no, Timecop had to make space all wobbly and stuff. It looks about as good as Sliders, so not good. Also, this effect doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense. They get in this weird rocket car and launch it under a giant magnet thing… which allows them to casually saunter out the other side, car-free?

“Set my exit to ‘cheeky swagger.'”


  • The computer room next to the time sled hangar has several monitors with pointless spiral graphics on them. Because that’s what time travel looks like.
  • Behold, the car of 2004!

  • If you buy the Blu-Ray Action Double Feature, the very second that Timecop ends, the menu for Bloodsport pops up. Because they know you’ve come this far. Yes, we watched Bloodsport, too.

This movie makes so little sense that, naturally, not a single character in it is opposed to any of the time travel bullshit, because then the audience would have to start thinking. But, in case you didn’t know the absolute dumbest aspect of Timecop rules, here’s the reaction any sane person should have to the fact that you can’t touch another you from the future because “the same matter can’t occupy the same space”:

“Wait, what? But– you’re not– time wouldn’t– that’s like saying– what?!”

Aside from the fact that touching yourself turns you into a screaming meat cloud, Timecop has a couple neat ideas and not a lot else. You really have to judge it on its action merits, and these sequences often strike the right balance between hearty laughter and “fuck yeah.” Unless you’re one of those guys who misuses the term “modern Western” way too much, there’s no point in looking for art here. Grab some brews, call your buds, clear your weekend, and pick three other movies starring anyone from The Expendables 2.

Safety Not Guaranteed (2012)

Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.