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


Review 1,000!!! Timecop (1994)

Thank you, dear reader, for sticking with me through 1,000 reviews. I presume none of you have been foolish enough to read them all, but if I’ve provided some entertainment or given some recommendations while indulging in something I’d happily do for my own amusement (watch and think about old movies) then I’m satisfied.

I write this as the Oscar nominations have just been announced, and I had something of a revelation while looking at the list. Apart from “Get Out”, which is a work of genius, I don’t really have much interest in the sort of thing which gets nominated for Oscars, gets whatever serious column inches remain, and so on. While I’m sure they’re…fine? (apart from “Darkest Hour”, Churchill was a monster and any historical movie which does not say that isn’t worth engaging with), they’re just not for me. Or, one would assume, you – hypothetical reader of a thousand reviews of slasher movies, SyFy Channel originals, kung fu classics and baffling so-bad-they’re-good-uns.

I’ve tried to bring my personal political views (socialist, feminist, anti-war) to bear on most of the reviews I’ve written. It’s fine, I think, to enjoy works of entertainment while not subscribing to their occasionally neanderthal views, and in fact having an honest critical relationship with them – cast your mind back to the movies of Jackie Chan, which are disgusting in their treatment of women while at the same time being fun action-packed romps. Or, any movie from the 80s and their treatment of non-whites and non-straights. I try and fight for a world where we won’t even think of making stuff like the ISCFC reviews, ever again.

Which is a strange introduction to review 1000, a movie I’m certain I’ve seen before but didn’t remember anything about. Jean-Claude Van Damme is on my mind at the moment, with his superb (if unfortunately cancelled) show “Jean-Claude Van Johnson” currently on Netflix, and I recently showed “JCVD” to my wife. She was legitimately amazed, as was I (again), and it was a real disappointment he didn’t keep moving down that path into meatier roles in bigger-budget movies. Still, the mainstream’s loss is our gain…and that doesn’t really apply here as “Timecop” was made long before all that, while he was still in the middle of his first flush of almost-A-list fame.

There’s a really decent cold open, which also immediately lets us know it was filmed in Canada, with local talent. It’s 1863, and a solitary stranger holds up a Confederate transport carrying gold; when they refuse to hand over the money, he pulls out a future-pistol and kills em all. The stranger? Callum Keith Rennie (“Twitch City”, “Due South”, and the greatest one-season guest star of all time in “Californication”); and the soldier? Ian Allinson, whose credit list is every bit as long and varied. But we never see either of them again, as we’re taken to the present, where we see Senator McComb (Ron Silver, a superb villain) almost visibly get aroused when asked to be on a committee overseeing the Time Enforcement Commission, created to police the newly invented crime-opportunity that is time travel.

JCVD is Walker, happily married to Melissa (Mia Sara), and she’s murdered by a posse of people with the most ludicrous mullets imaginable, just as he’s ready to start his new job as a TEC Agent. Flash forward to 2004! I know you kind-of have to make the future fairly close to the present when you’re dealing with the same actors, but I can’t believe they expected us all to be driving round in weird white plastic car-looking things, firing sci-fi guns, in only ten years. Anyway, we get a flavour of the world of stories you could tell with this premise as Agent Walker goes back to the Depression to stop a guy from the future making a killing on the Stock Exchange.

The story starts quickly and flows really well from there, I think – as Senator McComb is very obviously the villain from the very beginning, but it’s all about trying to work out what his plan is and how he’s trying to do it. All the while, JCVD is fighting off assassination attempts in both present and past, trying to keep the world together.

There is, of course, no attempt made to deal with the mound of paradoxes inherent in time travel. First and foremost, the TEC has no interest, seemingly, when agents come back from the past and something has very obviously changed – or perhaps they did once but someone went back and changed it? Argh! But yes, an agency that dealt with time travel would care, a little bit, about what happened to their returning agents. They have a device that registers “time ripples”, and that’s good enough for them and me.

What’s perhaps most interesting to our 2018 eyes is how closely this movie predicted the rise of Donald Trump. While Senator McComb is a relatively normal human, and not a bag of garbage like the thing currently sat in the White House, he’s aware that the person with the most money to spend always wins elections, and is solely interested in power for its own sake, with no sense of what he wants to do when he gets there. One line goes “I just need money, not the truth” and it could almost have emerged from the mouth of 45.

The fights are excellent, JCVD does the splits (twice), the ending is pleasant and satisfying if a little odd (wouldn’t someone have made a note of the day he was due back from his last assignment and prepared more of a reception for him? Like, “here’s all the stuff you missed in the last decade, thanks for saving us even if we don’t really understand what went on” or something like that.

Did you know this was based on a comic, and the people who wrote the comic also had a hand in the script? Well, I presume JCVD also influenced a few things, as he never struck me as a man who was shy about putting his view forward. Seriously, how did he ever become a star, given how many people he pissed off on the way up? Oh, and direction was classier than normal for a JCVD movie of the era, being handled by Peter Hyams (“2010”, “Running Scared”, and “The Star Chamber”, among many others).

It’s a lot of fun, and that’s really what we’re interested in, I hope. There’s a superb villain, a modicum of chemistry between the two leads, interesting subplots, and not a single thing to trouble you 24 hours after watching it. Okay, there’s a rather gratuitous and unnecessary full-frontal shot of a porn actress (presumably) slapped in halfway through, but chop that three seconds out and you can even pretend it doesn’t exploit its female cast!

Thank you, again, for reading along with me. Please make time in your lives to do something you enjoy, even if the level of creativity just extends to mocking old movies. I love you, dear reader. Let’s do another thousand.

Rating: thumbs up

Slipstream (2005)


Sean Astin, eh? There seem few actors who’ve done so much with so little, and of course this is nothing to do with his family – mother, Patty Duke; apparent biological father, Desi Arnaz Jr; and stepfather, John Astin. We’ve already seen him be awful in “Cabin Fever: Patient Zero”, but it was his turn in “Lord Of The Rings” as a 4ft tall concerned expression that allowed him to be a viable B-movie leading man for a while there. And it’s a time travel movie, so get ready for some pointing out of logic holes!


Even if you’ve remained blissfully unaware of Astin’s career, the first few minutes allows those of you with busy lives the opportunity to realise “oh, this is going to suck” and walk away, as he gives us one of those faux-profound monologues so beloved of sub-par movies, full of talk of fate and destiny and all that gubbins. He’s Stuart, a super-genius scientist who’s figured out “Slipstream” technology, which allows you, provided you’re holding the clear-plastic mobile phone-looking thing, to travel back in time up to ten minutes. Stuart decides one day to go and “rob” a bank by withdrawing $2000, then travelling back in time, withdrawing the money again, repeat ad nauseam. Not a bad plan, really, but into this world come two wrinkles.


First up is the FBI team that’s tailing him. Tanner and Hallman (Ivana Milicevic and Kevin Otto) are a couple as well as partners, sort of disinterestedly tailing Stuart who, due to leaving his NSA job suddenly, has got some national security flags against him, I guess. Otto is sort of like every cop from every show you’ve ever seen, but Milicevic is brilliant, elevating all her material – even more impressive given she’s not acting in her native tongue. Secondly is an actual gang of bank robbers! Led by Winston (Vinnie Jones, who certainly improved a little as an actor after this), with a mostly English gang, they finish setting up what at least has the potential to be a decent film.


I think we’re supposed to like Stuart as he nervously tries to talk to the bank teller, but he sounds like a pervert. There’s one moment when he’s discussing her breasts (women love that from guys they don’t know, right?) and he talks about her plunging neckline…but the woman is wearing almost a polo-neck top and is showing no skin. Problem with script or wardrobe? Anyway, because he’s a simpleton and the movie needs to generate some drama and can’t think of anything clever, he drops the Slipstream device, repeatedly, and cocks up his grand plan, although the gang also help in that regard. Firstly, he’s shot and Tanner is holding him as he activates the device – she goes back too, realises something is very amiss, and things sort of snowball from there. Winston then steals the device as he escapes the bank, Hallman gets shot, the ten minute time limit passes, and there’s a crescendo of sorts on board a plane.


This feels like a movie written around the sets they could get hold of. One of the producers went “we’ve got access to a bank, a bit of closed-off road and the inside of a passenger plane, what can you do?” The way the story leaps from one to the other with little rhyme or reason gives credence to this, and the primary question you could ask is “what were they trying to achieve here?” I’m still not sure, honestly. Best guess – it was a failed pilot for a TV show, where Astin helps the FBI with crimes, and Vinnie Jones steals or duplicates the technology or something. It ticks most of the boxes, but it’d have been nice if they’d done a bit more with what they had.


And, of course, it being a time travel movie, there’s a hefty paradox or two. The main one is halfway between lazy and “there’s no way we make this movie unless we fudge the rules a little”, and goes as follows. Stuart gets shot, but is able to activate the machine to take him back. I can buy the bullet going back into the gun, but what about the big hole in his chest? Oh, that’s alright apparently, as they explain later – time travel reverses stuff you’ve had done to you. Er…okay? But the example they give, an experiment with a lab rat, doesn’t make any sense either. The only things that go back through time are you and the stuff you’re touching. I have no problem with that, but when it’s used to handwave away deadly injuries, you start picking at it a little. What about shoes? My shoes don’t touch any part of my skin at all. If shoes, why not the carpet you’re stood on? Why the contents of the bags you’re holding?


Such is the problem with the enormous majority of time travel movies. We sci-fi fans are a picky bunch, and if you try and half-ass your premise we will burn you. It’s just a little bit too irritating to be completely on board with.


I haven’t even mentioned the technical movie stuff yet. Effects are decent, with reality slowing down, stopping and going into reverse; and like I’ve said, the acting is fine too. Apart from Astin, of course, who uses his co-producer status to do whatever the hell he wants, trying to be both the comic relief and the heroic lead but mostly just coming across as a whiny man-child. The music manages to be even more irritating than him, though, never once fitting the action it’s being played on top of, with endless “montages” over slowed-down action. When the camera does its twentieth circle round a group of characters just having a normal conversation, you’ll want to reach through the screen, tear up the dolly track and beat the cinematographer round the head with it.


Finally, the gunfights. There are a lot of gunfights in this movie, and relatively few people end up getting shot. On multiple occasions, both groups are stood entirely still, emptying clips at their enemies…and no-one so much as gets a flesh wound. Now, I’ve never handled a real live gun in my life (and hope never to in the future) but I’m pretty sure if you handed me one and told me to shoot at someone who was stood stock still twenty feet away, I could do it eventually. These people, who’ve handled guns lots of times, couldn’t hit a cow’s arse with a shovel.


I’m going to blame the writers and director for this one. It feels listless, like they just kept going with no particular end in sight, until they picked a spot to ignore their own rules and just reset everything, ready for the TV series (hold out hope, guys! It’s only been 11 years! They might be on the phone soon!) Credited writers Louis Morneau and Philip Badger also wrote “Retroactive” back in the late 90s, another (superior) time travel movie; and director David Van Eyssen never made a movie again, so why they didn’t ask Morneau or Badger to direct, as both of them have made better than this, is a mystery lost to the ages.


It’s sort of entertaining? But the air of pointlessness hangs heavy over it, and the central performance is really, really bad. Probably avoid unless you’re doing every time travel movie ever. Or every SyFy Channel movie, as I just discovered it’s an early one of theirs. Perhaps I ought to have been kinder.


Rating: thumbs down

Timescape (aka The Grand Tour) (1992)

That tagline is misleading at best

That tagline is misleading at best

I love and am annoyed by time travel films in equal measure. Love, because they’re almost always fun, with a good sci-fi plot and that idea that you can go back and solve your problems, no matter how big; and annoyed, because they always make the same mistakes. The two big ones – paradoxes (obviously), and “why didn’t X go back a bit further, rather than jumping right into the middle of his problems?” But how does it fare with, you know, actually being a good movie?


First things first, it’s got Jeff Daniels in it. Perhaps it’s just the endless stream of shot-on-video horror that has been the ISCFC’s review fare in recent weeks, but it’s lovely to see a leading man who can act, properly. Just a look here and there and you understand what’s going on! I admit, this could sound like damning with faint praise, but it’s really not. He’s Ben, who’s raising his daughter Hilary alone after an accident involving a car, a very snowy day and a horse drawn carriage resulted in the death of his wife. They appear to have moved back to the town they lived in before the accident, to open up a hotel; before they’ve even opened up, the mysterious Madam Iovine and her group of unusual-acting friends offer to pay *anything* for a week’s stay there.


From this, it’s a fairly slow build to the realisation that Iovine and her friends are time travellers, tourists to disaster areas – the San Fransisco Earthquake, the Hindenberg crash, and so on. One of them, the guy who Ben sort of befriends, is a historian, but the rest of them just seem to like the idea of doing the “Grand Tour” – a rather upper-class European concept to co-opt for a 1990s American movie, but it’s one of the many reasons this movie stands out. It does occasionally feel like a re-edited TV mini-series, with the occasional leaps in logic, but it all ties itself together pretty well.


It’s a movie of ideas far more than a movie of action, even though there’s something approaching fast-paced excitement towards the end. Even though in a movie with time travel and a wife who dies before the beginning, you can have a fairly good idea of where things are going, it’s still interesting to see his reaction to these people, and how it mirrors his own reaction to the accident that killed his wife (the one part of the movie that really doesn’t ring true). It’s all nicely directed, nothing too fancy. The differing reactions of Ben and his father in law, the Judge, to the death of Ben’s wife, and their views of their daughters, are the central struggles that drive the movie, although the Judge is a bit too cartoony to be taken seriously.


So, the time travel thing. Obviously, Ben figures it out, but as he uses it for the first time, the only response can be “why doesn’t he go back and save his wife?” He goes back a day, right into the middle of the conflict that is tearing the town apart, rather than…I don’t know…three days, solving all the problems he has in an instant. No reason other than it’d be a sort of dull movie if he did things the easy way. And the big reveal at the end…just think about how that daughter’s life would have gone to that point if Daniels did what he apparently did, and then wonder why she’s so surprised.


Anyway, it’s the price of admission for a time travel movie. They never think about it as deeply as the average hardcore fan would, at least, partly because if they fixed that stuff, they wouldn’t have a movie (which sort of answers my previous criticism, I guess).


Not the sort of thing you’re ever likely to make a point of tracking down, but if it’s on TV one rainy evening, you could do a lot worse. An interesting bit of trivia – this is the directorial debut of David Twohy, who’d go on to write and direct “The Arrival” and the “Pitch Black” movies, and also wrote “The Fugitive” and “GI Jane” (plus getting his start  in the business on “Critters 2”!)


Rating: thumbs in the middle

The Time Guardian (1987)


time-guardianAs everyone was “celebrating” the fact that yesterday was the actual day they went to in “Back To The Future 2”, the ISCFC did it the proper way – by reviewing a trashy old Australian sci-fi / time travel movie with a couple of odd cameos in it.


Dear movie people: if you’re going to have a text scroll to start your movie, don’t also have someone read out the text scroll. Do you not trust us? One or the other is fine. But it tells us, both ways, that it’s the year 4039 and humanity has retreated to a series of cities with special force fields protecting them; this is down to a race of baddie cyborgs called the Jen-Diki (who it turns out, shock horror were created by humanity a few decades ago to fight a war for them) deciding the best thing to do would be wipe us all out.


So, humanity in the last remaining city figures out time travel, and uses this to escape the Jen-Diki, going back in time to Australia long, long before the white man turned up there, but then the Jen-Diki do too, and…this bit is all slightly confusing. I guess they bounce around time, trying to escape? God knows. Anyway, our hero is Ballard (Australian charisma vacuum Tom Burlinson), one of the handful of soldiers humanity has left, and fighting alongside him is Petra, played by…Carrie Fisher!

Yes, their metal vests have nipples

Yes, their metal vests have nipples

Having such an iconic actress in a movie like this raises all sorts of questions. Her career was going great in the 1980s, so it’s not like she was even in her drug-dependent wilderness years (although it’s very possible she was still using heavily at the time). Although she’s in the movie til almost the end, they clearly only had her for a few days, or she was in no condition to perform, as there’s some really poor cutting round her obvious absence from the set. She gets injured, and despite it being to the shoulder, has to lay down for the next hour of the movie, so we see people look down at her (but not her looking back up), very long distance shots of her next to a campfire, which could be anyone, and lots of shots where she’s the only person in the frame, with the lighting looking suspiciously different to the other people in the same scene.


Ballard and Petra are sent back to 1988 to prepare a dirt mound to sit one of the city’s damaged legs on, and after Petra gets shot (about five seconds after going back in time) the lion’s share of the work is done by Ballard and his new friend, modern day geologist Annie (Aussie soap mainstay Nikki Coghill). Small town rural Australia has a lot of similarities with rural USA, but there’s more of a sense of humour of their mockery of authority, so it rattles along with plenty of laughs, as they try and build the mound, the locals wonder what’s going on, the Jen-Diki try and track them down, and the city slowly flies back through time – in other “we could only afford him for a day” news, the ruler of the city is Dean Stockwell, just after “Blue Velvet” and just before “Quantum Leap”.


It’s definitely not one of the worst films we’ve covered here, and there’s quite a lot to like about it. It’s nicely paced, the plotlines tie together in the end, the cyborg special effects are fun, and it’s interesting to see a movie set in Australia going for a bigger sci-fi theme.


I’d suggest the biggest problem “The Time Guardians” has is the tons of dropped plot threads. There’s a whole backstory for the city hinted at, with posters everywhere telling people to conserve water, but it’s just left there (and why do they need to conserve water, if they can travel in time and go anywhere? Just park by a river and take as much as you want!). Ballard is referred to several times as “the Time Guardian”, as if it’s a title bestowed on him, but as far as the movie’s aware he’s just a grunt being sent back on a mission. And the reasoning behind the ending is not so much flimsy as entirely non-existent.


By all means watch this if you can track it down, but be prepared to scratch your head a few times. Fun by completely inconsequential.


Rating: thumbs in the middle