Had everyone involved simply stuck to delivering even the bare minimum of formulaic conventions, then the finished product should’ve easily surpassed the sum of its parts. You’ve got time travel. You’ve got a good vs. evil story. You’re got a reasonably charismatic young lead rounded out by a cadre of great-looking supporting players, many of which with solid histories on the big and small screen. You’ve got a director with a track record in genre properties. And you’ve got a learned and experienced production crew.
Yet, it’s a fairly middling ordeal through-and-through.
Peter Hyams directed the affair from a script provided by Mike Richardson and Mark Verheiden. Richardson has gone on to producing such genre fare as Hellboy (2004), Alien Vs. Predator (2004), Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008), and Syfy’s popular Dark Matter and Resident Alien as well as Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy. Verheiden – a name I’m familiar with more for his work in the comic book industry than anything else – has also found a measure of success as a producer with his attachment to Smallville, Syfy’s Battlestar Galactica, TNT’s Falling Skies, and Starz Network’s Ash Vs Evil Dead. As for director Hyams? Prior to Timecop, the man graced the silver screen with such entries as Capricorn One (1977), Outland (1981), and 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984).
Still, all of this creative wattage failed to lift the great premise of a government agency policing time against those who would alter the past in order to affect the future (for their benefit) above the level of a TV-grade potboiler. How did it all go wrong?
That answer lies in its execution.
Jean-Claude Van Damme was cast as lead Max Walker, the Time Enforcement Commission’s top agent. In this role, he’s tasked with heading back into the years gone to nab suspects who’ve escaped into history for whatever nefarious purposes they intend. At this point in his professional career, Van Damme was arguably looked at as a more affordable alternative to box office superstar Arnold Schwarzenegger but hadn’t quite yet found the same level of success in receipts. His earlier genre projects – Cyborg (1989) and Universal Soldier (1992) – certain put him on the cultural map so far as fans of Science Fiction and Fantasy were concerned; but his true and loyal fan base was more aligned with his more sports-leaning athleticism. Flicks like Bloodsport (1988), Kickboxer (1989), and Hard Target (1993) were tailored more directly to the man’s physical skills, and – like actor Sylvester Stallone did with his Rocky franchise – Van Damme established his screen credentials on his ability to best his foes in physical combat more than a show of wits.
As a consequence, I thought that there were bits and pieces of Timecop similarly fashioned to appeal more to Van Damme’s core audience than they were scripted as organic to this narrative. Though others might pass them off as benign scenes thrown in maybe for their ‘cool factor’ or even a bit of comic relief, I found the emphasis on Walker’s high-kicking abilities and other various feats of strength more intrusive than anything else. If you think of a film like a road trip, these were road bumps that any other driver would’ve avoided … but the production felt they were necessary to bolster the budding career of this young star. In fact, it was almost as if producers were trying to say, “Wow, look what our guy can do!”
So … I don’t think Timecop is an abysmal film, but I do think that in so many respects the folks involved just made some abysmal choices. I don’t fault Van Damme or the producers for making these decisions, but – at the end of the day – we all live and die by whatever we choose to do. I think modifying an obvious SciFi and Fantasy premise and the corresponding script to fit the athletic requirements of an actor’s audience is wrong unless it’s done fully for comic intent. And no I don’t think these sequences were crafted for comedy, making them just ill-timed and atonal with the rest of the picture. That’s the horse I rode in on, and that’s the horse I’m riding out on so far as Timecop is concerned.
That’s why I say it isn’t a bad film. It’s just a complete misfire, one that was calculated that way. As a franchise, I think it’s ripe for a makeover. I’m aware of the short-lived TV spin-off as well as the sequel, but this is one possible tentpole prospect that could use a creative do-over. If done right, then it could be grand.
This time, let’s leave the split kicks to Kobra Kai.