Thursday, January 12, 2012

TIMECOP (1994)

PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*

The thing that bothered me most about TIMECOP was probably one of the things the producers considered a virtue: the film's attempt to get star Jean-Claude Van Damme to play a character with more on his mind than beating people up.

A lot of the action-stars who gained fame in the 1970s and 1980s-- Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Seagal-- have received merciless mockery for their supposed lack of acting skills.  While it's true that all three had very limited ranges, they could and did act quite well within those ranges.

The problem with TIMECOP is that unlike those actors, JCVD was really incapable of putting even basic feeling into the already broad emotional scenes of an action-movie.  In my final analysis, I found myself wishing to see JCVD in a more superficial film like KICKBOXER (1989) or DEATH WARRANT (1990), where he really was good at just one thing: beating up bad guys.

In this movie JCVD plays Walker, who starts the movie as a regular cop. His wife and unborn son are killed by mysterious marauders.  Years later, science perfects the process of time-travel to the past, and the bereaved policeman becomes a member of TEC (Time Enforcement Commission), set to regulate those who attempt to loot the past of its treasures or to change history.

To his good fortune, Walker encounters an aspiring presidential candidate, one McComb (Ron Silver), who wants to shut down the TEC.  Walker does some digging and soon finds out that not only does the politician want to plunder the past himself, he's responsible for killing Walker's wife and son.  Walker, armed with greater knowledge as to the origins of his tragedy, goes back in time both to avert his family's deaths and to bring righteous judgment down on McComb and his underlings.

Director Peter Hyams directs a lively action-opus here, with Mark Verheiden, the writer of the original Timecop feature at Dark Horse Comics, working as one of the film's writers.  Hyams does, however, lean heavily on the action-genre's penchant for filling a movie with many set-pieces that don't always line up well.  A particular example is that though Walker begins his time-jaunts in a spiffy-looking "time-ship," said ship is never with him whenever he materializes in the past.  Ron Silver is one of the film's main strengths, playing a politician so disgusting and oily that one can usually overlook the hero's floudering attempts at emoting.

The theme here is a pretty simple sociological one, with McComb's attempt to shut down the TEC functioning as a fantasy-world analogue to such real-world politics as the Reagan Administration's gutting of the EPA in the 1980s: the main difference being that Reagan did it to please assorted corporate powers while McComb just wants to fund his own presidential campaign.

At one point McComb even says something like, "We're going to bring back the worst excesses of the eighties!"

If he'd had a time-machine to access the future and see how much worse it could be, he'd probably have been embarassed to make such a puny threat.

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