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Film review: Timecop

"Timecop" is the best Jean-Claude Van Damme movie yet . . . for what that's worth.

The special-effects are first-rate in what is obviously a big-budget production and Van Damme himself has learned the Schwarzenegger lesson — smile, flash your natural charisma and don't take yourself too seriously. There's even a gag about Van Damme's occasionally sounding unintelligible. (Steven Seagal, are you listening?)

But in terms of plot and direction, there are loopholes galore and too much in-your-face audience-pummeling for my taste. (Including a couple of unnecessary sex scenes.)

Still, undiscriminating action fans will probably have a good time.

The story is time-travel stuff, which is always problematic. But here goes. In 1994 an American scientist creates a means of breaking the time barrier, so the government sets up a law enforcement unit to keep potential bad guys from traveling to the past to cash in on historical knowledge.

As the time frame moves forward to 2004, Van Damme is a maverick cop assigned to bring back such lawbreakers. Eventually, however, he discovers that an evil senator (Ron Silver) is the head of a time-traveling criminal ring, organized to collect big bucks so he can mount a monumental presidential campaign.

Along the way, there is a prominent subplot that has Van Damme coming up with a way to save his wife (Mia Sara), who was killed a decade earlier. Van Damme doesn't really want to mess around with changes in history until he discovers that his wife was murdered during a skirmish brought on by the senator's time-travel manipulations.

This leads to all kinds of complicated situations involving characters who travel back a decade and meet themselves, which in turn leads to events that alter what "Star Trek" would call the space-time continuum.

Director Peter Hyams is great at action and suspense — check out "Running Scared," "2010" or "Outland." But he always has trouble with story implausibilites — check out those same films.

As with all of his pictures, however, "Timecop" is slick, moves well and is filled with memorable set-pieces. (I am informed by women who have seen the preview for this movie that Van Damme doing the splits on a kitchen counter is, all by itself, enough to get them in the theater.)

Just don't think about it too much; the plot does not bear scrutiny in retrospect.

As for Van Damme, he's still not much of an actor. But in the hands of a skilled director such as Hyams, he taps into his best and most charming assets. He's no Schwarzenegger . . . but he's getting better. (And maybe it's good news that he's making another film with Hyams.)

"Timecop" is rated R for considerable violence and profanity, along with a couple of explicit sex scenes with nudity.