Recently when I ranked all the ’90s comic book movies for Polygon I rewatched TIMECOP for the first time since that decade. I decided to disqualify it when I read on the production notes extra that it was originally written as a script and then made into a Dark Horse Comics series, but I’m glad I watched it first, because it’s better than I remembered.

Jean-Claude Van Damme (BREAKIN’) plays Max Walker, a regular cop who’s about to be recruited to a new secret government agency that travels back in time to stop other time travelers from changing history. Knowing the future presents ample opportunities for get-rich-quick schemes (for example, in the opening a guy uses a futuristic machine gun to steal gold from the Confederate Army), but the government worries this could butterfly-effect shit up, so they try to control it.

This could easily follow a MEN IN BLACK trajectory and have Max start the job at the Time Enforcement Commission so we can learn all about it through his eyes. Instead he and his wife Melissa (Mia Sara, LEGEND) get blown up before he’s recruited and then it cuts to a future where he’s already a well-established Timecop. He’s so cool in this he had me thinking even his mullet looks good. It was the first time I actually thought that might come back some day.

He’s also “cool” in goofy ways like he can sense that a guy on rollerblades in the mall is a purse snatcher (yeah, I’ve seen that episode of CHiPs too) and knows how to put his boot right in front of the guy’s face without touching him.

This also represents the peak of Van Damme’s pride in his ass. We see it during sex and in his undies. Somehow I forgot the famous jumping-up-doing-the-splits-in-the-kitchen shot, and that it was to save himself from electrocution in a puddle of water. Classic.

Here’s another scene where he uses the splits as a defensive maneuver. Unfortunately I discovered by making this screengrab that he uses a stunt double for the splits if he’s wearing pants.


Another thing I somehow forgot was the one part I used to really like. Max sort of predicts JASON X by shattering a guy’s arm that gets frozen by chemicals. Then in the next scene he thinks of the one-liner he should’ve said.

Max is on a seemingly routine case going back to 1929, where he discovers his former partner Lyle Atwood (Jason Schombing, 3 NINJAS KICK BACK) cheating the stock market. We get to see how Max apprehends timecrooks and brings them to secret tribunals, but things get ugly when Atwood chooses the instant death penalty to protect his family from a larger conspiracy led by a senator with oversight of the agency. God damn it, I should’ve known Ron Silver (BLUE STEEL) wasn’t playing a good guy. He’s altering the past to make himself rich so he can basically buy the presidency.

So Max is on a mission to uncover the truth. He’s also showing the ropes to fresh-faced outsider Sarah Fielding (Gloria Reuben, LINCOLN). They go to 1994 and find future-timeline Senator McComb giving investment tips to his 1994 self. Not ethical, Senator! This scene is a good example of the movie’s sense of humor. When a 1994 guy talking to 1994 McComb sees Future McComb he asks, “Where do you come from? Are you supposed to be his father?”

Max also has a nice friendship with his boss Matuzak (Bruce McGill, also LINCOLN) but it’s a little nerve wracking because you keep thinking he shouldn’t trust anybody.

It is discussed that because the TEC is founded on the idea of protecting the timeline it’s not even acceptable to kill Hitler (that’s the subject of the DTV sequel starring Jason Scott Lee), and Max’s discipline is proven by his refusal to try to stop the murder of his wife.

But hey – chasing the corrupt candidate takes him to that night, which was already altered to try to stop him from chasing the corrupt candidate! So he gets to make things right this time.

Silver, of course, was a master at playing slimy pricks, so he’s a good villain. Nobody can watch this without wanting to see Van Damme or somebody wipe the shitty grin off that asshole’s face. There’s a funny part where McComb listens to a long speech by his political adviser in the back of a car, and before he responds he suddenly bangs the guy’s face against the side of the car and continues snacking from his bowl of peanuts.

I like when lowbrow movies of the past seem to be prophetic, so we have to discuss the parallels between McComb and Trump. Of course, McComb seems much more intelligent, competent and capable of passing for a normal human being or even a good senator. But he shares some of Trump’s politics and opportunistic hatemongering. According to his adviser, “The numbers in the suburbs are encouraging, but they are killing you in the urban centers. On the other hand there is a poll that shows you’re gaining with the pro-life, pro-death-penalty coalition and with the close-our-borders Americans-for-Americans anti-immigration faction.”

He also shares Trump’s dependency on television and money. “Elections are won with television,” he says. “You don’t need the press, you don’t need endorsements, you don’t even need the truth. You need money.” Later he says “The country’s goin down the drain because of the special interests. We need someone in the White House who’s so rich he doesn’t have to listen to anybody,” and, “When I’m president it’s gonna be like the ’80s again. Top 10% will get richer, the rest can emigrate to Mexico where they can live a better life.”

As a Senator he tries to defund TEC, the agency that could bust him. And Matuzak fears even investigating him because he’s a presidential candidate.

It’s all there. What I’m telling you is all we have to do is travel back in time to catch Trump talking to another version of himself and then kick one of them into the other one. (SPOILER.)

Of course some of the ideas of the future are dated. Back then we were so interested in the potential of virtual reality without really guessing how it would play out. There’s a weird little thing with a minor character, the tech who watches and explains monitors full of data about timestreams. They come over and he’s watching VR porn. It’s obviously an excuse to get in a random shot of a naked lady writhing around on a bed, but Matuzak refers to it as “fuckin that machine” and then there’s one of those sexy robot pictures from the ’80s like on the cover of the Autograph album (I looked it up and the first was literally called “Sexy Robot” and they’re by the artist Hajime Sorayama). So I think the implication is “this guy is so into computers he wants to fuck computers.”

I now think TIMECOP is pretty comparable to a Stallone or (lower level) Schwarzenegger sci-fi action movie, even if its a smaller budget and a star a little lower on the Planet Hollywood totem pole. It’s got Van Damme being a cool action hero, some good little fights and shootouts, a couple great stunts, a few details about its future with a bit of a Verhoeven or at least DEMOLITION MAN satirical vibe (mention of “The White Supremacist Party” qualifying for matching funds in the election – I guess that’s not too far off). And it’s well directed by Peter Hyams (OUTLAND, 2010: THE YEAR WE MAKE CONTACT, SUDDEN DEATH, ENEMIES CLOSER), with a score by Mark Isham (POINT BREAK, BLADE, HIGHWAYMEN) that makes it feel extra-legit.

Possibly relevant to the movie’s quality, possibly not: Sam Raimi (along with Robert Tapert) is credited as a producer. Not executive producer as he was on HARD TARGET, M.A.N.T.I.S., Hercules and DARKMAN II and III around that time – full on producer.

Somehow even though the screenplay was turned into a comic book that was then called the basis of the movie, there was also a 2-issue comic book adaptation of the movie. They also made a Super Nintendo game. In 1997 there was an ABC TV series about different timecop characters that lasted for nine episodes and inspired some tie-in novels. The DTV sequel (TIMECOP 2: THE BERLIN DECISION) came out in 2003. Last year the movie’s similarity/superiority to LOOPER became a running gag on the pilot for Jean-Claude Van Johnson. In recent years there have been attempts to “reboot” the “franchise,” with the writers of BRING IT ON AGAIN and JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND being hired to script at some point. If it ever gets made I’m sure it will be very different because the splits will have to be mocap.

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57 Responses to “Timecop”

  1. One thing that is IMO very interesting about this movie, is that it could pass these days as Network TV pilot. In 1994 it was a really cool studio b-movie, with awesome FX (Yeah, the moments when they appear in time counted as nothing-that-was-on-screen-before), but if ABC would produce a TV show today, it would look and feel at least like this, probably even seem more expensive, wouldn’t have the nudity, but the violence would be intact.

  2. Are you forgetting about the TV show already?

    Also, Vern, can you do a Van Damme series of his movies you haven’t reviewed? Watched Wake of Death and it was pretty good.

  3. Yeah, but the TV show, where Matuszak was played by Bob from THAT 70S SHOW btw, was a 90s network TV and therefore looked and felt like it. They could now make one that is on the same level as the movie, probably even with higher production values, without even trying.

  4. I don’t know if they did it for all versions, but here on the Region 2 disc the jumping-up-doing-the-splits-in-the-kitchen shot serves as the cursor in the DVD menus:

  5. I remember this one being good, too. But I think it’s one of those movies I saw in the theatre as a kid more because it was there than because I really wanted to see it. Even though what was considered mainstream culture at the cinema was less narrow back then, I think people forget all the off-summer weekends when it was hard to find anything too exciting.

    “Well, we could go see THE PROGRAM…”

    “Would I rather hold onto this $8 or spend it on THE REAL MCCOY?”

    Anyway, TIME COP is a pleasant surprise.

  6. He also shares Trump’s dependency on television and money.

    Also shared with John F Kennedy…

    Props to this movie for giving me “more than a little and less than too much” which I use to this day.

  7. What went wrong? TIMECOP was the largest grossing movie of JCVD’s career, raking in $100 million+ in box office revenues. The reviews, while not altogether positive, were some of the best of his career. It seemed like he was poised to join the A-list of action stars, but none of his movies after TIMECOP landed with mainstream audiences.

    Speaking about the film, the only thing that really bugged me was the method of time travel. Like, you sat inside a rocket sled in the present day, but then you were walking down the road and nearly get run over by a semi when you get to the past? Then you’re back in the rocket sled when you return to the present? Also, did you guys know the legendary Syd Mead (BLADE RUNNER, SHORT CIRCUIT) worked as a visual consultant on the movie? He designed the vehicles and the Timecop service pistols.

  8. It’s pretty dumb that it’s set in 2004, they really thought that’s what things would be like after only a decade?

  9. Syd Mead designed Van Damme’s extremely ugly and silly-looking autonomous car?

    To this day whenever I see Ron Silver I think of a line from the lamentably never-picked-up pilot for HEATVISION AND JACK. In it Ron Silver plays himself as the main villain and people are always recognizing him from his movie roles. “Timecop.” says a star-struck citizen “You were the bad guy in Timecop.”

    The Super Nintendo game sucked ass, by the way.

  10. I also think of Heat Vision and Jack when I see Ron Silver. The line I think of, though, is “if I feel so much as one bullet hit me, I’m going to come over there and pull your lungs through your nostrils.”

  11. I call bullshit on the whole “like matter cannot occupy like space” theory. When you’re 10 years older, no way are you the same matter as your 10 years younger self. The human body changes cells every second so even if a split second passed you’d still be different matter.

    In 1994, Timecop disappointed me because they could go anywhere in time they wanted, and decided to go back to 1994. Now 1994 is a unique distant time period so I’ve warmed up to the idea of time travel back to 1994 now.

    For that matter, so is 2004, even though their 2004 was wrong. But few things give me more pleasure than the ’90s’ idea of what the future was going to be like.

    It is strange that the success of this didn’t lead to more theatrical sequels with Van Damme policing different eras.

  12. My main memory of this is that the ending didn’t come off like it was supposed to. [SPOILERS, NATCH] So he’s happy because he has his previously unborn son now, but he meets him at age 10 and has missed much of his formative years? I mean I don’t know, I’ve never been in that situation, but I think there’s more sadness here than they realised. I agree with JCVD that it was better than LOOPER though.

  13. I remember watching this on HBO. I seem to remember the 1929 stuff ripping off THE UNTOUCHABLES wholesale. Ron Silver chews up the scenery good, and has perhaps the funniest line when he says to his younger, less evil self to lay off the chocolate bars.

    It also guaranteed I’d have this song stuck in my 12-year-old-head

    Pacman: That’s a legit problem I’ve run into a little with BACK TO THE FUTURE lately. So Marty comes back to this great house, truck and the same girlfriend but it all basically infers a life that he didn’t live before he went back in time.

  14. I second the unseen Van Damme retrospect. But I also counter that a Hyams retrospect would be glorious.

  15. Fucking finally! I’ve been saying that shit about the ends of TIMECOP and BACK TO THE FUTURE for decades and everybody looked at me like I was nuts. I knew I’d find my people someday.

    I second the Hyams retrospective. THE PRESIDIO 4 life!

  16. Falconman- IMO what happened to JCVD’s career is that, unlike Schwarzenegger (or, to a lesser extent, Stallone), Van Damme doesn’t come across like he has much of a sense of humor onscreen. I love a lot of his movies, but I just don’t find most of them as *fun* as any random Arnie joint, and I think that’s mostly down to his charisma.

    Pacman & Mr. M- I always thought the implication (at least in BACK TO THE FUTURE and thus, why not, TIMECOP) was that Marty’s memories of the time he missed would “fill in” later, like the changes in the photograph of his siblings, and we just don’t really ever see or acknowledge that happening because the movies take place in a very short timeframe.

  17. That makes sense. It could be an intriguing story in and of itself, how memory would shift with the changing of events. Time travel is such a fascinating dramatic device in the right hands. Stephen King’s 11.22.63 is basically a “greatest hits” but shown through his warped vision.

  18. See, I thought it was some so-subtle-it’s-barely-there satire from Gale and Zemeckis about 80s materialism. Sure, these people are veritable strangers to you and every memory or value you’ve ever shared with them has been erased from existence so you have about as much in common with them as some long-lost relatives you only met once at a family reunion, but they’ve got money and cars and that’s all that matters. Why would you give a shit about those losers you left behind in the old timeline? How many pickup trucks did they buy you?

  19. I hate when they mess with timeline stuff because of how it messes with memories. Like, I hated the introduction of Dawn in Buffy just because she threw a spanner into EVERYTHING that came before. The characters wouldn’t remember things happening the way I remember them happening because somehow Dawn is wedged in there now. And even if you say it wouldn’t change what happened because she would’ve been off in her childhood, not involved with Buffy and her friends and their adventures, it totally threw off Buffy’s family dynamic, so her identity and motivations would’ve been totally off. Ugh. I still hate it. Nothing against the character herself. I made peace with her, but I still hate it.

  20. The bigger problem with any BTTF ending is the fact that in part 3 a car gets hit by a train in broad daylight in front of witnesses and nobody seems to care. I guess they were all busy investigating the dead libyan terrorist on the shopping mall parking lot.

    Also since there wasn’t a 2nd Marty in the new timeline, it’s proof that this series doesn’t work by the concept of “Time travel only creates alternate universes, but doesn’t change time itself” and considering that Marty remembers the old timeline, he will probably remember both. It will just take some time to adjust.

    And let’s be honest, I keep hearing this “BTTF’s ending is cynical bullshit because their reward is fully materialistic”, but it’s not like they got rich from punching Biff, it’s that the faithful night helped them unleash their full potential and erased whatever held them back in the original timeline. They still had to work themself up to where they ended up!

  21. But what happens to the other Marty? The Marty that has lived this life for 16 years with these parents? Who we saw going into the past at the Lone Pines Mall at the end of the movie? That’s the part that’s never made sense to me

  22. I think it’s on the DVD commentary for BACK TO THE FUTURE where Zemeckis points out that the ending of the movie suffers from Reaganite materialism. Gale gets pretty defensive about that suggestion.

    Marty’s arc is secondary to George’s in the first film, except that (according to the tagline, anyway), it’s about him learning to be more punctual. It’s sort of like how Cameron is the one who arcs in FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF, while Ferris is just the conduit.

  23. CJ- I agree, I never thought the message was supposed to be that materialism is cool and good, because it was an accidental byproduct of the story- Marty was never actually trying to do anything but restore the status quo. That his dad wound up getting a big self-confidence boost and made a better life for himself is a happy outcome, but it’s not really conceptually any different from *any* movie where our hero winds up in a better financial or romantic situation than they started due to their pure heart and good deeds.

  24. Plus, it’s not like the McFlys got a really big upgrade- they still live in the same house, just everything is a little nicer and happier and more fulfilled now. They went from lower middle class to upper middle class, not like from Jed-Clampett-in-the-mountains to Jed-Clampett-in-Beverly-Hills.

  25. It doesn’t make sense. That Marty grew up with wealthy, supportive parents and thus wouldn’t have to seek out the guidance of the wacky old scientist who lived down the road. He would likely be out trying to get laid in his fancy new sports vehicle that night instead of spending the evening in a mall parking lot with a crazy senior citizen. Which means he would never go back in time, which means his intervention in the past would never happen, which means his parents would revert back to their prime selves, which means Marty would grow up as an outsider who hangs out with weird old men, which means he would go back in time, which means the intervention DID happen, which means…

    Yeah, it’s all fucked up. Best not to go down that rabbit hole.

    The only explanation is that Doc, fully aware of what needs to transpire for the timeline to stabilize, seeks out Marty in this timeline and somehow coerces him into taking part in the experiment, possibly by telling him the truth. After all, if Marty likes his life the way it is, it would be in his own best interest to make sure it stays that way, lest he wake up one day and his rich, successful parents have suddenly morphed into joyless white trash losers. It’s a real leap, but that’s what happens when a story changes time travel rules midstream. Either time is a loop or it’s alterable. You can’t have it both ways. The Terminator franchise keeps trying and all it’s done is make the timeline completely inscrutable.

    In their defense, though, I’ve rarely seen a time travel story that fully holds water. I think the first TERMINATOR and TIMECRIMES did it justice. That’s about it.

  26. Van Damme is pretty hilarious in Hard Target, Welcome go the Jungle, Enemies Closer and his Jean Claude Van Johnson.

  27. Mr. M- Well, I mean, *any* time travel movie is going to start falling apart if you pick at it too much, because more than any other fantastical genre, it messes with the very nature of narrative and causality. The important thing is that it makes enough narrative and emotional sense *in the moment*, and that’s something I think BACK TO THE FUTURE does probably more successfully than any other time travel movie. Even the TERMINATOR movies only really make any kind of consistent sense in the first movie, and even then only if you don’t think too hard about where John Connor was originally supposed to come from. I actually think 12 MONKEYS is probably the best version of the “time is a horrible loop” story that I’ve seen (never got around to TIMECRIMES, though I’ve heard good things).

  28. Zemeckis’ specific comment on the criticism towards materialism in BTTF was that it was noticed much more in European reviews, while no American ones did. It’s interesting to ponder but I don’t think it was the specific intention to glorify consumerism but to indicate how much better off the family is because the old man grew a pair one stormy night 30 years before. As someone who was bullied quite a bit I never fail to get goosebumps when George clinches his fist.

  29. TIMECOP >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> LOOPER

  30. The bigger question is, can Marty go on living his new, more successful life knowing that his mom remembers a guy who looked exactly like him who she wanted to bang back in high school? Yeah, it’s nice to have a new truck, but every time he sees it he’s gonna think about that kiss. What kind of life is that?

  31. Maybe that’s Marty’s fetish/kink?

  32. According to Frequency rules, you get both memories simultaneously which can be overwhelming, but seems preferable to forgetting one timeline completely.

    Crispin Glover also had a problem with the materialism in the ending.

  33. “This also represents the peak of Van Damme’s pride in his ass.” Classic!

  34. goeffreyjar — if so it’s even crueler, because he unexpectedly ends up in a position to actually act on his creepy incest kink, but he can’t go through with it because it will result in him never having been born. And you thought Sisyphus had it bad!

  35. I think we can infer from how freaked out Marty is when he first meets Young Lorraine that he has a neurotypically strong disinterest in doin’ it with his own mom.

  36. Someone just needs to mention that Marty McFly stole the origin of rock and roll from black people and I’ll have filled out my “droll observations about BACK TO THE FUTURE” bingo card.

  37. I know you’re joking, but that complaint always annoys me because Chuck Berry’s version of “Maybellene” was already a huge smash hit by November of 1955, Marty didn’t steal a thing.

  38. Kurgan: how do we know he’s just not reacting that way because he doesn’t know it’s his kink yet?

  39. I’ve gone from a partial to full appreciation of Van Damme in the last two years. Some combination of JCVD (movie), Jean Claude Van Johnson (underrated Amazon show), and rewatching Timecop and its surrounding flicks. I never got into the splits and actual action as much at first, but now I love Jean Claude’s acting style so much that my enjoyment is complete when I watch his movies. For some reason, he projects more earnestness than is usually strictly necessary for a given scene. There’s something about how he can seem eager to please or communicate passion in his action scenes that is affecting, taken as a body of work. I’m not sure how to say it. There is a sort of ballet-like charm, not just in the overt sense of his movements’ similarities, but in the thematic sense of a portrayal of exaggerated transitions from internal emotions to external expressions. Or something.

  40. Peter Hyams strikes me as something of an underrated director. He’s got a nice appreciation of spaces and a visual style that holds up well particularly in set-pieces, even if his movies aren’t always great. Given Vern’s change of heart on LETHAL WEAPON, I’ve always thought RUNNING SCARED would make for an interesting review. Unfortunately, recent discourse on this site makes me less enthused about about what the comment section might look like.

  41. Hyams Sr. is definitely on par with Richard Donner IMO. A journeyman in the best sense, who can work with every script and make something that is at least watchable, but is also capable of “really damn good”. (Unless all kinds of shit happens behind the scenes, like in the case of A SOUND OF THUNDER.)

  42. OUTLAND, THE STAR CHAMBER, 2010, and THE PRESIDIO are all pretty solid flicks. 2010 especially doesn’t get much due because of the impossible nature of following up a masterpiece, but if thought of differently it’s not bad. He also tried his hand at comedy with STAY TUNED which I don’t know if it holds up as well if any of the other films I mentioned, I’d be surprised.

  43. I would also recommend BUSTING, a very impressive early one from him. It boasts one of the best Steadicam sequences I’ve ever seen. It’s made all the more impressive by the fact that I’m pretty sure the Steadicam hadn’t been invented yet when they shot it. I think he’s just that good of a cameraman.

  44. I think Narrow Margin is the perfect rainy Sunday movie.

  45. BrianB- I remember really enjoying RUNNING SCARED! It was the first movie I really enjoyed Paul Walker’s performance in, and then he started growing on me in subsequent FAST/FURIOUSes.

  46. Also, END OF DAYS is one of my absolute favorite lesser Schwarzenegger flicks. I love how it kind of awkwardly plays against his usual type giving him all this tragic depression and backstory, but he still winds up physically battling the Devil like he’s the fuckin Predator. It’s probably not even in the top ten best Schwarzenegger movies, but it really works for me for some reason. It’s like a more mainstream LORD OF ILLISIONS.

  47. TheKurgan, I’m pretty sure he’s referring to the Gregory Hines / Billy Crystal cop movie from the 80s that Hyams directed.

  48. Oh yeah, it looks like the one I am thinking of was directed by Wayne Kramer. I guess this is one of those times where assumtion makes an ass out of me.

  49. TheKurgan – Yes, I was referring to Hyams’ Billy Crystal and Gregory Hines 1986 RUNNING SCARED. But sounds like the other one is worth adding to my watchlist. I also have a soft spot for END OF DAYS.

  50. I’d like to add to the confusion. Wayne Kramer of the MC5 directed Running Scared?! Now I’ve got to see it!

  51. I think that’s a different Wayne Kramer, this is the one who directed THE COOLER with William H. Macy.

  52. lmao, I’ve enjoyed the discussion about time travel.

    Time travel doesn’t really make any sense when you think about it too hard, which is probably why it’s impossible.

  53. I’m also an END OF DAYS fan; hated it at the time, but picked up the DVD a few years ago for some reason and have watched it a couple of times since. I particularly like how Byrne’s soul is possessed while he’s casually going to the bathroom.

  54. I watched it recently and yeah, it’s a lot dumber and more fun than I remembered. Byrne is in the top five Satans of all time, and I particularly love Arnold trying to play a burnout cop (security consultant? The particulars of his profession make zero sense at any point), complete with standard-issue Cop On The Edge Disgusting Breakfast Ritual Involving Pizza And Blender. Guy drinks all day and night, eats nothing but garbage, and never works out, yet somehow he looks like Arnold. It lets you know how seriously you should be taking any of this.

  55. Hyams is also in the OJ documentary from a few years ago, talking about him as an actor and later on how their friendship deteriorated during the trial.

    I’ve always liked the way his films are lit, or barely so often times. He was one of the first guys I could recognize a unique visual style from because of that.

  56. Happy 25th you timeless treasure trove of roundhouse kicks and well styled mullets. How we’re not up to your Van Damme led 5th sequel by now is beyond me.

  57. RIP Steven Lambert, stuntman and martial artist, most memorable for his rainy rooftop showdown with Van Damme in TIMECOP and a vicious serial killer in James Woods’ COP

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