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SYFY WIRE Jean-Claude Van Damme

Why Now Is a Great Time to Revisit Jean-Claude Van Damme's Timecop

Jean-Claude Van Damme does the splits in a time travel romp that's now on Peacock.

By Matthew Jackson
Timecop (1994) GETTY

Time travel movies are a funny thing in the world of science fiction, because they have to strike a balance more difficult than arguably any other subgenre. Like all sci-fi, time travel has to have rules, parameters to the make-believe that audiences can, if not grasp, then at least roll with as the action progresses. But those rules can also never feel like rules, in the sense that they're things which limit the potential of the storytelling and the fun of the film in general. It's very, very hard to do, which helps explain why only a handful of time travel movies ever really feel like they've cracked the code.

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While it's perhaps not on the level of something like Back to the Future or Looper, Peter Hyams' Timecop (now streaming on Peacock!) definitely got the balance right when it arrived in theaters back in 1994, and it did it while also walking the line between sci-fi drama and action spectacle. All these years later, despite mixed reviews when it was first released, the film holds up as a fun example of the time travel movie gone right, not just because of what it chooses to do with its time travel, but because of how it handles the tonal shifts.

Why Timecop, now streaming on Peacock, Remains Such a Good Time Travel Film

In establishing its particular time travel rules, Timecop –– based on the Dark Horse Comics series of the same name –– comes in with an immediate advantage, because it's not just the story of a time traveler, but the story of how time travel is both perfected and regulated by the United States Government. Max Walker (Jean-Claude Van Damme), the titular Timecop, is a federal agent working to enforce the rules of time travel and avoid ripples that change the present, and potentially the future. That job eventually puts him at odds with Senator McComb (Ron Silver, loving every minute of his villain role), a corrupt politician who wants to use time travel to personally enrich himself and, eventually, secure the Presidency. 

Wrapping the story in governmental procedures and political maneuvering allows for a relatively seamless explanation of the film's basic rules –– you can only go backwards in time, you can't directly interact with your past self, etc. –– and throws us right into the action as Max works the case leading him back to McComb. As with so many time travel movies, things get a little knotted and strange around the middle, particularly when McComb and Walker start crossing paths in the past, but it works well enough to keep the film moving, and you're definitely never bored.

RELATED: John Woo's Hard Target Remains a Wild Ride 30 Years Later

Which brings us to the more action-centric phases of the film. Max, after all, isn't just a time enforcement officer. He's a loose cannon cop who's determined to work his case and get his man even when his department is threatened with shutdown. He's a haunted hero who's lost his wife. He's a guy who can do the splits without warming up to avoid a taser shock. He's all of these things and more, and the mechanics of the film's time travel are balanced out by the sheer over-the-top energy of Van Damme as an action star. It's not his biggest and most bombastic movie. It's definitely not Hard Target, for example, but there's more than enough action energy here to keep things moving, and keep us entertained. 

Then there are all the other little touches which work so well for the film, from following a corrupt politician determined to exploit a new invention for his own gain to a wonderful (if limited) performance from Mia Sara as Walker's wife, Melissa. These elements all add something, however cursory, to the sense that we're on a ride that just won't quit, won't slow down enough to let us question the rules, and will always deliver just enough action to make it goofy fun even when it's not smart fun (and it certainly can be). In other words, Timecop is a really good time travel movie that's a blast to throw on while you're at home on Saturday night, so what are you waiting for?

Timecop is now streaming on Peacock.