In the following joint Blu-ray review, John provides his comments on "Bloodsport" and Dean provides his comments on "Timecop," with both John and Dean writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Thoughts.
Reviewed by John J. Puccio
"Bloodsport" (1987), one of two movies on this Jean-Claude Van Damme "Action Double Feature" from Warner Bros., gave Van Damme his first starring role. He had made several films previous to "Bloodsport" but in uncredited or co-starring parts. Here, for better or for worse, he gets the full stage.
The screenwriters based their story on a real-life character, martial artist Frank Dux (who acted as the fighting coordinator for the film and who pronounces his name "Dukes."). Details about Dux's actual accomplishments come into some small doubt when you consider what this movie puts him through, but we'll take his word for things. Naturally, Van Damme plays Dux.
When the film opens, Dux is a young man in the military, and he has somehow gotten hold of an invitation to fight in the "Kumite," a secret, underground, full-contact, martial-arts competition taking place in Hong Kong. Why Dux? Who knows. In a flashback we get a picture of his youth, having been trained by a martial-arts master, Tanaka (Roy Chiao), for many years. And the film tells us Dux is fighting in the tournament for Tanaka's honor. Basically, it's an excuse to watch Van Damme, himself a former martial-arts competitor, in action battling a series of the world's best (fictional) fighters.
The trouble with these kinds of things, though, is that just watching people punching and kicking each other in bout after bout isn't enough to sustain a whole movie. So the scriptwriters have to flesh it out with some kind of a story line, a backdrop for the action. In this case, we have three related tales going on while the tournament unfolds: (1) Dux abruptly leaves the U.S. Military without permission to fly to Hong Kong, with the military police (Norman Burton and Forest Whitaker) in hot pursuit; (2) Dux becomes romantically involved with a beautiful reporter (Leah Ayres) during the secret competition; and (3) Dux must eventually face a monster in the contest, Chong Li (Bolo Yeung), the current champion, who has never lost a match and killed men in the ring.
I guess we should take those one at a time. What are the odds that the U.S. Military would send two policemen all the way around the world to retrieve a single AWOL soldier? What are the odds that a beautiful young woman would drop into Dux's lap during the tournament? And what are the odds that the great Bolo Yeung would show up as the villainous champion? OK, the odds are pretty slim on the first two items, but even in 1987 moviegoers were used to seeing Yeung in villainous roles. The guy started out forty years ago in "The Wandering Swordsman," and he's still going strong today. (And what do you mean, Was he in "Enter the Dragon"? Certainly, he was.)
Van Damme may have been an excellent martial artist (he had fought as an amateur and professionally for several years before entering the movies), but he was no actor. "Awkward" doesn't quite do justice to his thespian abilities. To be fair, though, he is not much worse than the rest of the cast (although Donald Gibb, playing Dux's newfound friend Ray Johnson, is quite effective). Guess who in the cast would go on years later to win an Academy Award for Best Actor. Yet poor Forest Whitaker doesn't say more than two words in this entire movie.
The film's best line: When Dux applies the "Death Touch" to a stack of bricks, breaking only the block on the very bottom of the pile, Chong Li comments, "Very good. But brick not hit back."
Some of the fighting sequences look good; some of them are less than convincing. These days, with the Ultimate Fighting Championship and its spin-off organizations on TV practically every night, movies about martial-arts contests are not quite so intriguing. Still, the competitors are diverse enough in size, shape, and technique to make the fighting at least mildly interesting.
Now, if it weren't for all that Bruce Lee posturing and the "Rocky" style ending, maybe we'd have had a better movie. Oh well; I guess it goes with the territory.
John's film rating for "Bloodsport": 4/10
Reviewed by Dean Winkelspecht
The Muscles of Brussels was a huge box office draw at one point in the annals of Hollywood. "Kickboxer," "Universal Soldier," "Hard Target," and "Timecop" were just a handful of the films that made Jean-Claude Van Damme a household name during the first half of the Nineties. Although his popularity has waned and Van Damme is no longer a marquee name, his back catalog continues to sell well. "Timecop" ranks as Van Damme's highest grossing release. Produced by Sam Raimi and Robert Tapert, "Timecop" relied entirely on Van Damme's then-star power.
Jean-Claude Van Damme was never known for his acting ability and his thick Belgian accent. He found fame with his kickboxing abilities and his good looks and accent won favor from the ladies. Most of his early pictures focused solely on his fighting skills, but later films attempted to bring humor to the Belgian's roles. Van Damme films commonly featured the actor sharing screen time with himself. "Timecop" found little humor in Van Damme's performance and he again found himself his own supporting actor, but the film found the warmest reception from critics and audiences alike.
In the film, Van Damme is a Time Enforcement Commission officer named Max Walker. Max was widowed years prior when his wife Melissa (Mia Sara) was killed during an attack on his home that was to kill him. This has left him ice cold in his ability to handle criminal offenses by those using time travel to gain personal benefit. His icy demeanor allowed him to bring his own partner to justice and Max finds himself working alone. The investigation to find who his former partner worked for finds him crossing paths with Senator McComb (Ron Silver). McComb wants to shut down the TEC and claims it is an expensive agency that is not needed. The real motive is that McComb has been using time travel to gain a large amount of personal wealth in a bid to become the next President of the United States.
Max discovers that McComb has committed a multitude of time-based crimes. He is matched with a new partner, Sara Fielding (Gloria Reuben), but she turns out to be another agent for McComb and Max realizes there aren't many people he can trust as he tries to stop McComb. His friend and superior TEC officer Eugene Matuzak (Bruce McGill) is the only person he can trust. However, Matuzak's own attitude and memories are changed by McComb's manipulating the time continuum. The attack that claimed Melissa was arranged by McComb and whereas Max had kept true to regulations for years and did nothing to save his wife, he finds that the only way to stop McComb may be to save his wife's life.
"Timecop" is a fun little reminder of early Nineties action films. Van Damme competed with Steven Segal during this time when former martial artist and kickboxing champions were hot tickets. Van Damme has an interesting appeal and the full gamut of his abilities was on display for this film. He showed intelligence and an ability to act in a role that provided him a conflicted character torn between duty and the desire to save his wife's life with his ability to travel in time. With the cheesy humor that plagued some of his films removed from "Timecop," the film was a serious entry into the action / science-fiction genre. Van Damme was deadly in the action sequences and a believable hero.
This isn't a movie for everybody and the plethora of voices that sing out against anything starring Van Damme have plenty of ammunition to continue their song. The cold character of Max Walker fitted Van Damme and he didn't have to show a lot of range, but being cast into the right role is always a strength. Just ask Keanu Reeves after the "Matrix" trilogy. With the notion of time travel being a primary plot point in the film, there is a lot of wasted opportunity as almost all of the film occurred in what was then the present day. The filmmakers truly could have allowed Van Damme to stop further back into time to share some attractive period sets. Only one prohibition-era scene took advantage of the film's time travel mechanism. The film also lacks a strong supporting cast and having Van Damme team up with Van Damme has gotten tiresome.
The film is still enjoyable and is a good way of wasting a Saturday evening when there isn't much more to do. Jean-Claude Van Damme will never be remembered as a great actor, or a great star. However, he had his moment in time and made the best of it. "Timecop" may very well be the best film he had the benefit of starring in. It is a nice little action film set in the realm of science fiction. It could have achieved far more considering its setting and the producing team of Raimi and Tapert behind the scenes. There aren't many of Van Damme's familiar one-liners when disposing of a villain and the fight scenes aren't as spectacular as many of Van Damme's fans are accustomed to. Regardless, "Timecop" is a great reminder of 1994 and the day when Van Damme was a big box-office draw.
Dean's film rating for "Timecop": 6/10
Warners offer "Bloodsport" in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, transferred to a dual-layer BD50 using a VC-1 codec. The overall picture quality is a little dark and gritty in appearance, with some scenes displaying a good deal of noise and grain. It looks about as one might expect a low-budget film over two decades old to look. Colors, however, are quite deep, and contrasts show up really well, even if facial tones are, like the rest of the image, too dark. Definition is average for a high-def product, and the print shows few or no scratches, lines, ticks, fades, or flecks.
The studio engineers present "Timecop" on the same side of the BD50 as "Bloodsport" and in its original theatrical aspect, 2.40:1, mastered using a VC-1 codec. It is somewhat inconsistent in its ability to deliver high-definition visuals, however. Detail is very strong through many scenes in the film, but a number of the film's darker sequences appear muddy and lacking in level of detail. When the film is at its best, "Timecop" looks quite good. Coloring is solid, and "Timecop" exhibits some strongly saturated hues. The film does look its age and the colors aren't as vibrant as today's films, but they miss the mark by the slimmest of margins. Black levels are strong, but there is a fair about of crush in the darker moments and shadow detail suffers. The source print was very clean, and I didn't notice any glaring flaws in either the transfer or the source materials used. "Timecop" is clean, and there are moments when it looks incredible. It just lacks consistency.
The sound on "Bloodsport" comes to us remastered in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. There is not much going on here. Applying Dolby Pro Logic II or similar matrixing puts a bit of musical ambience into the rear speakers; otherwise, it's a fairly mundane aural presentation, with voices sometimes sounding a touch nasal.
For "Timecop" we get a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, where the sound is quite a bit better than in "Bloodsport." The entering and exiting of time travel sounded especially good, as are the scenes where Van Damme's character is "on the rail" and entering time travel. Rear surrounds get used throughout the film and are especially prevalent during the aforementioned time-travel sequences. They are used during a few other action sequences and also carry the musical score from Mark Isham. Bass response is decent with some nice rumble here and there. Vocals sound very clean.
For "extras" we find twenty-three scenes on "Bloodsport" and sixteen scenes on "Timecop." Basically, that's it. English and French are the spoken language options, with French and Spanish subtitles, and English captions for the hearing impaired. And, of course, we get two films on the one Blu-ray disc.
Dean said he had fun watching "Timecop," and it's one of his favorite Jean-Claude Van Damme films. I have rather a less opinion of "Bloodsport," which despite being loosely based on a real-life character is so filled with Hollywood clichés, it's barely watchable as a movie. It might be best for the viewer simply to check out the action sequences in "Bloodsport," pretend the rest of the story didn't happen, and move on to "Timecop."