Picks and Pans Review: Timecop

updated 09/19/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/19/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Jean-Claude Van Damme, Ron Silver, Mia Sara, Gloria Reuben

Since it isn't saying all that much to call this thinking man's action movie the best film Van Damme has ever been in, let's say that even after a bumper crop of unusually enjoyable summer action extravaganzas, this is the cleverest, most original shoot-'em-up, punch-'em-up around.

It employs an enduring science fiction plot notion: Time travel leads to all kinds of chronological conundrums. If a time traveler changed something in the past, how will it affect the future, i.e., his own present?

Van Damme is a federal officer in 2004, assigned to a force that patrols time travel to keep criminals from going back to change events to their advantage. Silver is an ambitious senator who wants to finance his presidential campaign by, among other things, going back to 1929 to exploit his knowledge of the stock market's post-crash behavior.

Complicating Van Damme's job is his own illegal aim of going back to 1994 to prevent the murder of his wife, Sara.

The athletic Van Damme remains the most credible of movie martial-arts heroes, and he has become a competent actor. Reuben, as an internal-affairs officer investigating Van Damme, is appealingly tough in what now has to be considered the Sandra Bullock role. Silver is a strong villain.

Following the plot's logic tests is intriguing, though it also leads to an ultimately crucial flaw: The ending means that most of the plot could not have happened. Shortcomings aside, though, this a briskly paced, never-offensive, absorbing tale. (R)"

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