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Reel Mad: Timecop

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I haven’t forgotten Reel Mad! This column is a ranting ground for movies that don’t simply disagree with my tastes; they evoke within me a true anger.

Timecop is almost the reason why this column was created. It’s an action movie with Jean-Claude Van Damme about time travel…and I should like all of those things! The premise is simple: In the future, JCVD is a police officer that apprehends criminals abusing time travel. So simple that the potential could equally go either good or bad, but Timecop is such a disaster for being insultingly bad.

My struggle with this movie isn’t entirely based on the movie’s misconception of time travel science, though I’ll touch on that further down… It’s with the villain, Senator McComb. Here’s McComb’s master plan: He’s going to send his goons into the past so that he can accrue the $50 million he needs to afford TV air time to promote his political campaign. WHERE DO I BEGIN?

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This is what the movie's actually about.

First, there’s the quantity. $50 million? In 2004 money? Ya sure that’s enough for ya, buddy? We’re not going to go for hundreds of millions? Maybe even reaching for that billion-dollar brass ring? You’d just have to found Facebook and you’d have $4 billion in a couple of years. I mean, I understand if you don’t want to get greedy… You’re evil, but at least you’re only stealing your fair share.

Even in the fictional future (which is now our fictional past), $50 million isn’t a lot of money. It must have already cost him more than $50 million to develop, produce, and operate his own time machine. And I have to assume that a politician that has the pull and connections to acquire his own time machine also has enough of the same to scratch up a few million bucks. If the White Supremacist Party can get federal funding in this world, what the fuck are you doing wrong, dude?

There are so many better ways of raising $50 million! Even illegal means are more lucrative… Why not just get into drug dealing? Extortion? Human trafficking? If you’re bent on a life of crime, I get it, but if I had to decide which I’m more afraid of: The DEA or Jean-Claude Van Damme with a time machine? I am way more concerned about the latter.

Forget that this is, in the short term, about money. McComb’s true target is political power. With a time machine, the universe is his playground. He can build himself a life of wealth and dominion just by going back and altering the right sequence of events. But instead…he’s scraping up cash so he can get votes? What was his plan B in case he succeeded in gathering the campaign funds but lost the election?

McComb does manage to secure the patent to a microchip in the past that’s potentially worth billions. Good for him… Once you become a billionaire, you’ve really reached a point of success where politics don’t apply much to you. With multi-billion dollar assets (and growing), you have leverage over not just the president of the United States, but most of the world’s leaders. His misuse of time travel in this movie’s plot is analogous to him finding a magic genie and wishing for a sandwich.

By the way… The chief of timecops suggests late in the movie that theirs is the only known existing time machine. Then how the fuck do they think criminals are going back in time? Of course there has to be at least one other time machine outside their control. Do they just assume they have horrible security and criminals are frequently sneaking into the TEC facility to use their time machine?

Maybe the only security they’re interested in is job security. When the police hold the monopoly on time machines, there shouldn’t be any time crime. By default, their whole agency is moot. So the occasional “accident” has to “slip by” just so they have crimes to solve. Maybe that’s what Internal Affairs is for…unless they’re also in on these shenanigans to secure their own jobs as well!

Now, here’s where the science in the science fiction goes wrong:

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First and most important question I have for this movie: WHERE DOES THE ROCKET SLED GO?

Without having to nitpick the movie’s continuity or its use of time travel as a plot device, there’s a very simple, fatal flaw in its method of time travel. In its design, a person is strapped into a rocket sled that propels them through a kind of stargate through time. At the point of arrival, the traveler appears casually walking through the fabric of space-time as if emerging from a wall of gelatine. To return home, the traveler activates a device on their belt, moves back through space-time, then the rocket sled carries the traveler as its passenger out of the stargate, facing the other direction.

So where does the rocket sled go? Hammerspace?

It would almost be better if the sled takes the traveler back in time and is never seen again. Then it could be assumed that it’s needed for the initial trip, but is destroyed through the stargate and all the traveler needs to return home is the belt device. But seeing it reappear on the trip home suggests that for the duration that the traveler is in the past, the sled still exists…somewhere, and is waiting.

Then there’s Senator McComb’s demise (and here’s your spoiler warning, but who cares)… The villain meets his end by being thrown into contact with his past self and the two dissolving into a primitive CGI goo. The movie tries to establish a rule that if you go back in time and meet yourself, you shouldn’t touch your counterpart. The explanation being that two of the same matter cannot exist in the same space at the same time.

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This is not how this works!

This is a perverted interpretation of the Pauli Exclusion Principle. The actual principle is that no two particles of matter can occupy the same space at the same time. (See also, “telefrag“) It does NOT mean that two objects from different time periods cannot come in contact with each other without cancelling each other out like matter and anti-matter.

Let’s say I’m willing to meet the movie half-way and believe that two identical particles of matter from different time periods will exhibit that reaction. Our atomic makeup changes constantly. In fact, our cells die and reproduce at such a rate that we occupy a completely new body every seven years or so. And since our skin interacts with our world the most, it’s shed and regenerated much more rapidly. So it would be impossible for the same matter to come in contact with itself, unless your evil scheme was to alter the course of breakfast.

In the end, our hero prevents the murder of his wife so he can have her back after a decade of mourning. He’s rewarded for altering his own personal future…which is the very thing that he as a timecop is supposed to prevent! So the lesson this movie is teaching us is that if you’re the protagonist, you’re okay to abuse time travel, but if you’re “evil”, you’re going down? Both the hero and the villain in this movie had selfish agendas for changing the past, but JCVD came up victorious because he’s better at high kicks. I’m gonna need you to turn in your badge there, officer.

Timecop can be described as a check-your-brain-at-the-door movie, but your brain may reject you upon pickup. The action is mediocre, one-liners are lame, and its depiction of “10 years in the future” is goofy. It has the potential to be “ironically bad” (or is it “ironically good”?), but there just aren’t any highlights that compensate for its failings. Yet it’s Van Damme’s most profitable and critically acclaimed film.

Wait a minute… Produced by Sam Raimi???

About the author

Sean Ryan

Blogger, podcaster, and your new best friend: Sean Ryan, aka The Grey Ghost. Host of Alpha Counter and the Method To Madness podcast. Sean's produced content for online networks that no longer exist, like the Team Sportscast Network and GotGame. He now contributes to Anime 3000 and I Just Had a Terrible Thought... Pray for them. Twitter: @thegreyghostnet

2 comments

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  1. ZeonicFreak

    I sadly own this movie, since its leeched on to the same DVD as Bloodsport, because I wanted to spend 5 dollars at Walmart for Bloodsport, not Timecop.

    Well, I do enjoy the “alcoholic, mullet wearing” JCVD, because him drinking a lot and not having a barber cut his Lethal Weapon style hairdo screams “I am in a bad part of my life right now, that the movie wont let me change.”

    The 90′s were not favorable to JCVD, because there was Street Fighter, which is probably the best disaster movie of his career. Actually, Double Impact was pretty good I would say.

    1. Sean Ryan

      I have that exact same DVD for the exact same reason.

      The only mullet that dwarfs JCVD’s in this movie is the henchman with the mega-mullet. You’d think that Senator McComb would be able to enlist black ops mercenaries to carry out his dirty work, but instead he hired Bebop and Rocksteady.

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