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‘Timecop’ (R)

By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 16, 1994

Sexy, flexy little action figure Jean-Claude Van Damme has been making the rounds of the talk shows and movie magazines bleating that he wants to be considered an actor.

Yeah, right. As if his latest project, "Timecop" (and the upcoming "Street Fighter," which is actually based on a video game), are Van Damme's tickets to credibility as a serious player.

In "Timecop," J-C seems to have lightened up a bit and learned a few more expressions (bringing the total up to something like four). And he can actually smile on screen without making it look like some horrible rictus. But the movie is strictly more of the same, a somewhat mixed-up medley of Van Damme's usual chopsocky with some sci-fi doodads and lots of one-liners hoping to become Arnold-esque catch phrases. But in spite of its glitches, "Timecop" is lots of fun, a blast from the past.

Ten years from now, American scientists discover the secret of affordable time travel -- but only backward. You can't go into the future, because, as it is explained here, "it hasn't happened yet." This is such hot stuff that a top secret presidential commission is set up to protect time, and it's headed by a former D.C. chief of police (this got a big laugh from the preview audience).

Van Damme is the top timecop, hurtling back and forth in time to keep bad guys from going back and robbing from the past, or worse, erasing people's ancestors and just generally messing with the future.

Shortly after we meet Van Damme, his wife (Mia Sara) is inexplicably killed by futuristic thugs in a memorable exploding-house scene. Suddenly we're bounced back in time to Wall Street circa 1929, where some small-time crook is cashing in big with tips gleaned from a very advance copy of USA Today, until Van Damme shows up with a different hairstyle, and the hood fights back with a laser weapon. Then it's back to the future -- 2004, in fact -- where Van Damme struggles with his conscience about whether he should go back and prevent his wife from becoming history.

Sorry to have to tell you this, Jean-Claude, but your co-star Ron Silver steals your movie, acting-wise, leaving his teeth marks all over the screen as a sinister senator who is using the time travel technology for his own financial and political gain, while trying to have the funding cut so no one else can use it but him. There are several amusing "Patty Duke Show"-style scenes in which the older, wiser, meaner Silver meets his younger, more innocent self -- he advises himself to lay off the candy bars.

The special effects, which like the plot, are deeply indebted to the Arnold epics "Terminator" and "Total Recall," are substantially flashier and more expensive-looking than in previous Van Damme films, and the script, though it gets a bit confusing with all the time shifts, makes more sense than usual. Otherwise, "Timecop" is just more of what you've come to expect from a Van Damme vehicle -- lots of noisy violence, martial arts mayhem and great escapes.

The by now obligatory glimpse of Van Damme's bare butt, by the way, arrives less than 10 minutes after the opening credits. This feature seems to have become his trademark, the way Alfred Hitchcock used to make a cameo appearance in his movies.

"Timecop" includes choreographed violence and brief nudity.

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