"Timecop" is the best Jean-Claude Van Damme movie yet . . . for what that's worth.
The special-effects are first-rate in what is obviously a big-budget production and Van Damme himself has learned the Schwarzenegger lesson smile, flash your natural charisma and don't take yourself too seriously. There's even a gag about Van Damme's occasionally sounding unintelligible. (Steven Seagal, are you listening?)
But in terms of plot and direction, there are loopholes galore and too much in-your-face audience-pummeling for my taste. (Including a couple of unnecessary sex scenes.)
Still, undiscriminating action fans will probably have a good time.
The story is time-travel stuff, which is always problematic. But here goes. In 1994 an American scientist creates a means of breaking the time barrier, so the government sets up a law enforcement unit to keep potential bad guys from traveling to the past to cash in on historical knowledge.
As the time frame moves forward to 2004, Van Damme is a maverick cop assigned to bring back such lawbreakers. Eventually, however, he discovers that an evil senator (Ron Silver) is the head of a time-traveling criminal ring, organized to collect big bucks so he can mount a monumental presidential campaign.
Along the way, there is a prominent subplot that has Van Damme coming up with a way to save his wife (Mia Sara), who was killed a decade earlier. Van Damme doesn't really want to mess around with changes in history until he discovers that his wife was murdered during a skirmish brought on by the senator's time-travel manipulations.
This leads to all kinds of complicated situations involving characters who travel back a decade and meet themselves, which in turn leads to events that alter what "Star Trek" would call the space-time continuum.
Director Peter Hyams is great at action and suspense check out "Running Scared," "2010" or "Outland." But he always has trouble with story implausibilites check out those same films.
As with all of his pictures, however, "Timecop" is slick, moves well and is filled with memorable set-pieces. (I am informed by women who have seen the preview for this movie that Van Damme doing the splits on a kitchen counter is, all by itself, enough to get them in the theater.)
Just don't think about it too much; the plot does not bear scrutiny in retrospect.
As for Van Damme, he's still not much of an actor. But in the hands of a skilled director such as Hyams, he taps into his best and most charming assets. He's no Schwarzenegger . . . but he's getting better. (And maybe it's good news that he's making another film with Hyams.)
"Timecop" is rated R for considerable violence and profanity, along with a couple of explicit sex scenes with nudity.