Tuesday, January 6, 2015

In short: Timecop: The Berlin Decision (2003)

The timecops of the TCE are still policing the timelines, protecting them against changes by evildoers and the well-meaning alike. But, in a classic “who watches the watchmen?” decision, the Powers that Be decide that there needs to be another time travelling organization to check the timelines really haven’t been tampered with. Or something.

Unfortunately, said organization’s boss, Brandon Miller (Thomas Ian Griffith) goes into the business of changing the timeline for the better himself. Top timecop Ryan Chan (Jason Scott Lee) just barely manages to stop Miller from killing Hitler. Miller’s wife dies in the process, leaving the already crazy Miller absolutely batshit.

That could be that, but a freak time-travelling accident cum timecop stupidity changes the past of Miller’s organization just enough for some of his men to be able to free him from his imprisonment. Miller now begins to systematically prevent the birth of the TCE’s members, which curiously enough doesn’t lead to a different bunch of timecops but to an organization so understaffed, soon only Chan is left. Timey-wimey, etc.

Our hero now needs not only to somehow catch Miller but to prevent him from killing his younger self.

In 2003, the masses were clamouring for a straight to video (well, DVD) sequel to Timecop, and this Van Damme-less effort is what they got. To my surprise, it’s actually a fun little action flick that works around its low budget pretty well without losing out on the feeling of letting its hero travel through time. Obviously, there were some western sets available on the cheap, Nazi uniforms are basically everywhere, everyone can build a disco and put silly wigs on various characters, so time travel to places other than warehouses and empty industrial buildings are a go.

Director Steve Boyum – just before an actually pretty impressive career in episodic television – keeps things moving along nicely, using cheap yet effective ways to impress in his audience that yes, indeed, people are traveling through time in inappropriate directions here, and yes, the time line has indeed been changed, even if it’s just putting an eye-patch on Chan’s boss played by John Beck. I found myself pretty impressed with the way the film handles these things, its use of shorthand perhaps more than just a bit silly but generally clear and not totally stupid.

I also liked how simply and effectively the film portrays the strange sense of alienation Chan is suffering from, from time to time emphasising the dream-like quality the life of someone travelling through time like he does would probably take on. It’s much more thought and care than I’d have expected to encounter in a film that by all rights only needed to provide some decent action scenes – which it does – and a few shots of a shirtless Lee – again, mission accomplished. Now, I’m not saying this is a particularly intelligent or deep treatment of time travel and its potential ethical complexities, but I am saying The Berlin Decision actually does put some thought into these things, leading to a film that feels just that decisive bit more convincing and satisfying than one that would not make the effort at all.

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