Timecop: The Berlin Decision (2003)

Credit where credit is due for trying their hardest to sound like an extremely generic spy thriller from the 1970s – “The Berlin Decision” ought to be a Len Deighton or Martin Cruz Smith novel, full of tough agents and femmes fatale and I’ve never read anything from either man so I have no idea what I’m talking about.

In between the original “Timecop” movie and this, there was a TV series, of which 13 episodes were originally broadcast but only 9 aired. A shame, as the pilot was directed by genre legend Allan Arkush (“Rock n Roll High School”, “Heartbeeps”, “Caddyshack 2”) and it had a decent-looking cast. I may do my second ever TV review and let you know if it was any good or not. I mean, “Timecop” is a solid idea for a show – cops trying to stop bad guys from changing history – and, if we’re being honest, tonight’s review feels like a little like a pilot too.

  • Lots of “irrelevant” world-building detail that gets left on the back burner
  • None of the main characters die
  • Supporting characters with skills the hero doesn’t possess

It’s 1940, and TEC agents have been sent back to prevent the assassination of Adolf Hitler. Our hero is Ryan Chan (Jason Scott Lee, who’s really quite good), then there’s Agent Jeffers (Tava Smiley, still a very busy woman in the business), and Travis (Josh Hammond). When they beat the crap out of some Nazis and pretend to be them in order to infiltrate the party – luckily, one of them is a visiting Japanese dignitary, and they handwave away Lee being of Chinese descent by reasoning it’s 1940 Germany and no-one will be able to tell the difference – they meet seemingly loads of other people who’ve travelled through time to help them out, including Brandon and Sasha Miller (Thomas Ian Griffith and Tricia Barry).

Anyway, it turns out that the Millers are a little more interested in killing Hitler than they are preventing the murder, and it’s this rapid-fire series of double-crosses at the beginning that give the movie its fuel. Chan has to stop them, shooting Sasha and arresting Brandon, and the meat of the movie kicks off with him having been in prison for a couple of years – the date is, I think, 2025.

It hinges on a debate that Miller had, as a long-haired student, with Chan’s father, a physicist who (I think?) had a hand in inventing the time machine used by the Time Enforcement Commission. Chan is all “time ripples, we have no idea what could happen” and so on, and Miller is all “let’s kill Hitler, he was a pretty bad guy”. Know what? I’m sort of on Miller’s side. With the absolute misery-hole the world has become, I’d take a bunch of enlightened liberals going back in time and stopping dictators before they ever got started, speeding up a few inventions so no-one thought “hey, let’s go and enslave that continent over there” and so on. I appreciate it’s not a simple question, but saying “your ancestors deserved to die because the world as it is today is the only possible way it could be” isn’t simple either.

So, the TEC defends the course of neo-liberal capitalism (joke, sort of) but there’s a riot at the jail housing Miller, he escapes and suddenly, people at the TEC start disappearing, as Miller is going back in time and killing their families. Well, I say “he escapes”, as how he manages this might have been fun to show. He just does it, and the movie hopes we don’t ask too many questions.

I think I said in my review of the first movie that I’d ignore the paradoxes, because it was fun. But this almost uses the paradoxes as a plot point! It goes like: Agent X disappears because Miller went back in time and shot her mother. So…why do the other agents remember her? She never existed, right? It would make more sense if she was suddenly replaced with a different actor (as, presumably, the TEC would have still been looking for agents).

And the other thing, as Miller zips through history and they hand-wave away some clever routine Chan has to do to be able to chase him. In the present, you need a huge machine, an injection, and a massive use of power in order to jump through time, but in the past all you need is to press a button on a watch. Really? It’s a cool-ish set-piece, but it crumbles under the least scrutiny. And I’m a pretty forgiving genre movie fan! Plus, Miller appears to know where Chan’s parents are going to be at every second, for instance appearing inside some nightclub where they’d gone dancing, back in the 1980s. Really?

There’s another group to the TEC, the Society For Historical Authenticity, and their role in proceedings is sort of vague, like they were waiting for a series in order to flesh them out. But they have agents too, and (one would assume) time-travel machines of their own. They appear to live in the past to make sure no-one changes things, although how they’d know is a subject, again, the movie chooses not to touch on.

At about the two-thirds mark, an idea popped into my head and once it was there, the rest of the movie was ruined. Why not just go back to the day that Miller applied for a job with the Society (or the TEC, it’s again vague which group he was a member of) and turn him down? Or give him an office with a six-figure salary and ask him to research something entirely different to time travel, if you’re worried he’ll invent his own machine?

Chan has the opportunity to save his father’s life but doesn’t take it, because that would prove Miller right, and it rumbles along to its inevitable conclusion. People who died don’t remember being dead, but Chan remembers, blah blah blah. They give Jason Scott Lee a few cool fight scenes, as he’s a fantastic martial artist, but the end fight with Miller is weirdly staged, as Thomas Ian Griffith may be many things but he’s not a fighter. The acting is fine, with most kudos going to the Doctor, Mary Page Keller, who gives life to a potential nothing character.

It’s a movie that doesn’t bother thinking about itself for more than a second, and throws in interesting ideas only to abandon them after a few seconds in favour of a dull, status-quo maintaining action plot.

Rating: thumbs down


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