Once a month (or whenever the moment strikes), NERD OUTRAGE will delve deep into the golden era of action cinema: 1980 to 1999. Although overwrought with awful acting, formulaic premises and enough steroids to give a brontosaurus chest acne, this time was curiously special.
After nearly winning the Oscar for best actor and original screenplay in 1976, the 80’s became a time when Sylvester Stallone couldn’t form words unless he was gripping a submachine gun. “The Era” also took a juiced-up, Austrian egomaniac named Arnold Schwarzenegger to ridiculous heights of wealth and broken English one-liners. Bruce Willis married Demi Moore and immediately lost all his hair. A man who insisted his jerky hand movements were, in fact, karate and that his low-pitched mumbles were authoritative not the crazy street person blather many suspected, became Steven Seagal, millionaire action star. Hell, during this time, struggling actors dreamed of landing a role in a “Dolph Lundgren Picture.” And then…
There was Jean-Claude Van Damme. And in 1994, he was unstoppable…-ly addicted to cocaine. No, actually he wasn’t fully addicted until ’95. In 1994, he was still capable of churning out ACTION MOVIE GOLD.
It was a big year: True Lies, Speed, The Specialist, The Getaway, Fist of Legend, On Deadly Ground, Terminal Velocity, Beverly Hills Cop III, and The Crow were all released. It was also a shining moment for Jean-Claude. He starred in a couple big budget action spectacles that year, the video-game to movie remake Street Fighter and (trumpets sounding from the heavens)… Timecop. Jean-Claude was finally becoming an action star to be reckoned with—on the same level as Arnold and Sly—but, sadly, Timecop would be the apex of his stardom and moneymaking abilities. Soon, Jean-Claude’s $10,000-a-week cocaine habit would tear apart his personal life, dragging him down to the direct-to-DVD action movie purgatory (Have you seen Legionnaire?). But, that shouldn’t change how we view Timecop, which stands tall as a timeless sci-fi action indulgence.
And speaking of time, I’m sure you’ll be surprised to learn that it is a central theme in Timecop. Based on a Dark Horse Comics series, the film primarily takes place in 2004, when the Time Enforcement Agency (TEC) is created to police time travel because bad guys were exploiting it. Just think: If you know which horse is going to win the race, you can bet a lot of money on that horse (if you’re confused, just watch how Biff gets rich in Back to the Future 2). So, in the Timecop world, time travel is like the Wild West and Jean-Claude’s the sheriff. It’s never fully explained how all these criminals are time traveling, like where they’re getting the proper equipment, etc., but we shouldn’t care. I mean, I would love to laugh at the fake scientific explanations of time travel in Timecop, if there were actually any fake scientific explanations in Timecop. There's nothing. There’s a token nerdy time travel expert guy. There are bunches of blinking computer screens. There are lots of flashing lights and loud sirens. There’s a rocket-powered time travel car that speeds toward a wall and, at the last second, disappears into a ripple. But none of it is explained, even half-assedly so. Yet, maybe that’s what makes Timecop so… Timecop?
Jean-Claude is Max Walker, an officer in the TEC. During the film, Jean-Claude does the splits twice, kicks a henchman in the balls once and unloads a large gun blast into the balls of a different henchman before saying, “Whoa, that’s gotta hurt!” in a thick Belgian accent. Jean-Claude has a steamy sex scene with a nude Mia Sara, but director Peter Hyam’s makes sure you get a good look at Jean-Claude’s exposed ass. One would think he almost went out of his way to put Jean-Claude’s butt in the center of the frame. Kinda weird, Peter Hyams. But most of the time, Jean-Claude isn’t showing us his butt, but kicking everybody else’s.
On a time travel mission in the 1920’s, Jean Claude fights a large henchman with a handlebar mustache who says, “I went 10 rounds with John L. Sullivan himself.” Jean-Claude easily thumps the man senseless and quips, “I saw Tyson beat Spinks on TV.” In that same scene, Jean-Claude sticks a broken table leg up another henchman’s ass. Later, Jean-Claude freezes a henchman’s arm with liquid nitrogen and then blasts it off. The henchman lets out an extended horrific scream and falls off a platform 50 feet to the ground. As he watches the man fall, howling to his death, Jean-Claude jokes, “I should've said, ‘Freeze.’” Just another example of how, in action cinema, somebody can be dying in front of the hero, but he still has the wherewithal to stop, turn to the camera, and poke fun at the extreme suffering he has just inflicted.
Ron Silver is Senator McComb, a man who literally does nothing nice the entire movie. He wants to become president at any cost. And when he’s not smashing his campaign manager’s face against the interior of futuristic limo for saying McComb doesn’t have enough money to run for president, McComb’s sending his minions back in time to commit highway robbery and stock fraud (and senseless murders) to bolster his campaign finances, so that he can afford to run for president.
In imagining his presidency, McComb predicts: “When I'm in office it's going to be just like the 80's. The top 10% will get richer and the other 90% can immigrate to Mexico where they can get a better life.” It’s almost a life imitating art moment, except for the Mexico part. Later, he nonchalantly shoots a man in the forehead and asks nobody in particular, “What’s the big deal? Point it, pull the trigger and BOOM! Somebody dies.” This belongs in a long line of action movie villains explaining their indifference to murder. At one point, McComb even gets a little goofy with Jean-Claude: “You see, I'm an ambitious Harvard-educated visionary who deserves to be the most powerful man in the world and you... you're a fucking idiot who never figured out that the only way to make anything of himself with all that fancy kicking was on Broadway.” Jean Claude kicks a henchman in the face and says, “I'm still kicking. I must be on Broadway.” That's comedy, folks, no matter how you slice it.
What to Watch For
Watch for what happens when two versions of someone, from the past and present, touch each other. During the whole film, there’s really only one rule about time travel: the same matter can’t occupy the same space. Huh? What? Why? It failed in “field tests,” according to the head of the TEC. Again, the science isn’t explained and we don’t care anyway, but what actually happens when two different versions of someone touch each other? First they let off hellish shrieks and melt into one big, computer-generated hydra. Then, after some flailing, the hydra dissolves into nothingness... or geniusness. You be the judge.
"Ebert gave this two stars. I refuse to watch it."
Sure, Timecop is limited, contradictory and, at times, you feel embarrassed for everybody involved in the film. But the delightfully clichéd plot, non-stop orchestrated violence and constant barrage of tongue-in-cheek one-liners make it, at the very least, a glorious guilty pleasure.
Look, don’t ignore Timecop. Don’t pretend like it doesn’t exist either. Embrace it, good reader… because, although you may want to, you can’t go back in time to stop Jean-Claude from making it.