Shitty Movie Sundays: Timecop

In choosing a film for Shitty Movie Sundays, care must be taken. Too often, before being watched for a Shitty Movie Sundays review, a movie appears to have the all the right ingredients that make for a shitty movie. There’s a veteran of shitty cinema in a lead role, the ideas behind the film are ridiculous, and the trailer is an absolute howler, but then the film turns out to be more mediocre than shitty. A mediocre film is such a disappointment. At least when a movie is bad, and really wallows in it, it can be a captivating watch. But a mediocre film just fades away. It has no significance and leaves no lasting impression. What to do, then? Make an executive decision, that’s what. Timecop, the 1994 film from Peter Hyams, is a forgettable sci-fi/action flick that normally wouldn’t be bad enough for this space, but then there are the cars. Oh, my goodness, the cars.

Futuristic-looking vehicles that are just modern cars with custom bodywork are a staple of sci-fi flicks that take place in the near future. It’s a necessity, really. The car has become integral to the human experience, and there’s no reason to believe that we’ll get rid of them in the future. But, cars are constantly evolving, subject to an extremely competitive marketplace and changing technology. That becomes reflected in films, where design departments are tasked with predicting what cars will look like in the future. Their results have never been more absurd than in Timecop.

I’m not exaggerating. The cars in this film are absolutely ridiculous. From a limo to personal rides, the cars look like reject models from Star Wars or Bladerunner. They’re all grey and white plastic, with doodads and slits all over. They look like the uninhibited creative imaginings of a child with a mixed set of model parts. No one, anywhere, would be caught dead driving these monstrosities. What makes the cars even worse is that this film takes place a mere ten years after it was released. Yet no one during the production thought to take a step back and consider that, maybe, in the year 2004, cars would still resemble those in showrooms in 1994. They would still be glossy and smooth, they would still run on gasoline, and they would still have front windshields. The cars are so ridiculous that they did more to yank me out of my suspension of disbelief than the plot. And that plot involves time travel.

Written by Mark Verheiden and Mike Richardson, adapting their comic book, Timecop tells the story of Max Walker (Jean-Claude Van Damme), an agent with the Time Enforcement Commission, a federal law enforcement agency set up by the government following the invention of time travel. The commission, led by Eugene Matuzak (Bruce McGill), tracks events in history that appear to be the work of time travelers, and sends agents back in time to halt the nefarious activities and preserve the timeline. Mostly, these appear to be financial crimes, with people going back in time to place bets on the stock market, or, in a very intriguing introductory scene that was better than the rest of the movie, robbing Confederate gold shipments at gunpoint.

The stakes are high. As one character points out, imagine if someone like Saddam Hussein sent agents back in time to 1944 and it is Iraq that becomes the first nation with nuclear weapons. Shenanigans like that must be prevented, no matter the cost.

The commission is overseen by a Senate subcommittee chaired by Senator Aaron McComb (the late Ron Silver, at his most Silverish). He’s no good guy. He sees time travel as a means to absolute power. In 2004, he’s running for president, and decides the only way to make that happen is to become insanely rich. Walker discovers McComb’s activities, and spends the remainder of the film trying to put a stop to McComb’s budding despotism.

There’s a moment in the film where McComb expounds on his motivations, and it’s worth mentioning. During one scene, McComb says, “Country’s down the drain because of the special interests. We need somebody in the White House so rich he doesn’t have to listen to anybody.” In another scene, right after McComb shoots someone in the face, Walker quips, “Maybe he’ll calm down after the election.” The parallels between these little snippets of dialogue and the current menace in the Oval Office were enough to make me sit up and take notice.

Anyway, being about time travel, there’s a fair amount of ridiculousness and plot holes, but that’s okay. No one really knows what would happen if people started messing around with time, so the narrative possibilities are endless. But instead of seizing on those possibilities, Hyams chose to focus on the action, as that was what made Van Damme a bankable star at the time. There are plenty of fight scenes, all choreographed to show audiences how limber Van Damme is, and plenty of gunplay. It would be satisfying if it weren’t so familiar.

In an overall sense, Timecop is not a shitty movie. It just isn’t a very good one. But it does have enough moments of pure shitty that it has earned a spot on the list. The cars are hilarious, Ron Silver is precious, and any film that features Van Damme performing so many splits can’t be taken seriously. Still, Alien: Resurrection is a better shitty watch than Timecop.