I turned on the television today, and for whatever reason, Timecop was playing. It probably started at around four in the afternoon. Why not? There is probably a demographic for which a 4pm showing of Timecop is perfect. I decided not to watch more than a few minutes. I got some Ron Silver bon mots and a couple of forced one liners from Jean-Claude himself (it’s really stunning how frequent they shoehorned those in) and went about the rest of my evening. I wasn’t in the mood, though I do like Timecop a lot. It reminds me of that feeling I had watching action films in my teens, when I was already old enough to know better but didn’t care. It reminds me of watching action films in my twenties, when the whole point of watching the film was to joke about how ridiculous it was. Overall, I enjoy films like Timecop on a lot of different levels. In some ways, I actually consider it to be pretty good.
As Jean-Claude Van Damme films go, it’s a masterpiece. The setting really works in its favour. As I explained to my wife while we watched Ron Silver and the Muscles from Brussels match wits, Jean-Claude Van Damme with a decent haircut is happy, with a beautiful wife and a bright future. Jean-Claude with a mullet is burnt out and spends his life going day to day with nothing on his mind but justice. This is the kind of film that uses a mullet to evince characterization. Go for it, I say. It’s fun. It’s goofy. The dialogue is terrible. But it has Ron Silver. It’s a film about policemen who travel through time and a corrupt senator who is travelling through time illegally to fund his run for president. In this context, Jean-Claude seems almost reasonable. Almost.
Then, however, it dawned on me. I feel silly for not noticing this before, especially considering the fact that I saw both films shortly after release, but…
Timecop came out three years after Terminator 2.
Now, obviously people shouldn’t just give up making action films because Terminator 2 was amazing. It puts things in context though. Timecop is an early 1990s film in that really-seems-like-the-1980s kind of way. Mullets, bad music, evil fat cats… there’s probably a Vietnam War veteran in there somewhere. I can’t remember. I’ll have to go and watch Timecop again. It’s the only way to be sure. Timecop seems like a film made a full decade earlier than Terminator 2. It’s astonishing they were made within such a short span at all.
There are clear disparities of course involved in each production. Budget, writing, giving a crap about making a decent film… To be fair though, all this does is remind us how amazing Terminator 2 really was. Go and watch Commando. I’ll wait.
Ok, it’s pretty great right? Feeding the deer at the start, just killing lots of people for no reason, his name is John Matrix. Notice how ridiculous Schwarzenegger is: he’s a cultural artifact more than anything else.
Anyway, now go and watch Terminator 2.
Holy crap, right? It’s bloody amazing. Let’s go ahead and watch it again.
Yes! What a great film. What an astonishing action film. So quotable, so intense, so wonderfully paced… Amazing.
So why on earth have I ever watched Timecop at all, let alone more than once? Well. Van Damme, clearly. This is a guy who would do the splits at some point in the film. That was his thing. It makes me wonder, do we have any figure like that now? Not really. Maybe Keanu Reeves, in a weird way. Bruce Willis has transitioned from being the action star you could take seriously to an actor who occasionally makes films that remind you he used to be an action star. Now, he’s something else entirely.
I feel like we’re in a fallow period for Timecop-like films. A big part of it is hindsight I suppose, but I do worry. I mean, the Transformers films are just garbage. I hear the Universal Soldier sequels get pretty ridiculous, but does that count, seeing as the franchise started with a Van Damme classic? I’m not sure really. Maybe my standards have improved.
Nah, it can’t be that.