Of all the unlikely means of time travel the movies have given us, the way developed in Timecop is easily one of the stupidest. Please grant me some leeway in describing it before getting to the movie itself (trust me, you’re not missing anything).

Here, the time travelers board a self-contained cockpit with a jet engine on the back and speed at about 60 miles per hour toward a wall. There’s something to do with “magnetic fields,” and we know that because a techie mentions them once before the crash-test-dummy experiment known as time travel occurs.

The people materialize in the past, and they can only travel to the past, which is one of the rules (more like “guidelines to things you probably shouldn’t do while traveling through time,” except this one seems to be a law to the nature of the process). An expository character states these rules immediately after telling a stunned Congressional oversight committee that time travel is indeed possible, and yes, we are doing it (give us money). When the temporal voyager arrives in the past, he or she appears out of nothingness, sometimes at street level and sometimes in midair, depending on what random gag the screenplay wants to throw at him or her (falling into a pond, walking in front of an oncoming semi truck).

While in the past, Exposition Joe tells us as much as the Senators, you cannot change anything, although he’s not actually speaking to the ability to do so, only the wisdom of doing so. If you kill Hitler, unintended things might happen. It’s the “ripple effect,” backstory man says, offering the only real metaphorical terminology the movie has to offer.

It’s dumb, all right, and really, truly so. Mark Verheiden’s script (based on a comic book series he created with Mike Richardson) makes no coherent sense of its rules for time travel but spends enough effort creating the gadgets and vehicles that one cannot help concentrating on the whole process. As an added bonus for viewers in the real future of the movie’s imagined future of 2004, we get to see how what some anticipated the world to look like ten years later. Aside from time travel, nothing much is different from 1994, except for the cars (which drive themselves and look like massive, metallic, polygonal fish) and “safe sex” (not the cheesy sex scene during which the camera pans in front of a candle while saxophone music plays on the soundtrack).

The plot features a “time cop” played by Jean-Claude Van Damme battling a weaselly, power-hungry Congressman who wants to bring back Reaganomics (so it sort of got one thing right) played by Ron Silver. The politician is also responsible for the murder of the cop’s wife (Mia Sara, whose character doesn’t recognize her un-aged future husband because of his mullet), and after high-kicking and splitting his way back and forth between 2004 and 1994, Van Damme and his past self fight a bunch of goons in, around, and on top of a Victorian house. Silver also gets to work with some split-screen effects to portray his evil candidate giving his not-so-evil past self a pep talk.

At least the contradictory theoretical physics and the goofy way to accomplish them give some mental participation to Timecop. Otherwise, it’s just a dumb, old Van Damme vehicle.

Mark Dujsik is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Online Film Critics Society. For more of his reviews, visit his website.

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