The Smithereens’ “Time Won’t Let Me” from Timecop

Is it wrong to consider Timecop the last really enjoyable Jean-Claude Van Damme movie? Aside from JCVD, I mean. That opening scene, with the Civil War soldiers and the dude with two machine guns, is arguably one of the greater cold opens in action films, but I digress.

Timecop was the end of a string of movies which positioned the Muscles from Brussels as the action hero of the early ’90s. Starting with 1988’s Bloodsport, then on through Cyborg, Kickboxer, Lionheart, Death Warrant, Double Impact, teaming up with Dolph Lundgren in Universal Soldier, and starring in John Woo’s American directorial debut, Hard Target, Van Damme was the king of action flicks. Timecop had an even bigger budget than Universal Soldier, and ended up being a solid box office success.

After that, it ended up going downhill. While far from a flop, Street Fighter was roundly panned, and Van Damme’s next few films did all right, but nothing quite like the steadily-climbing successes he’d seen previously. In ’97 and ’98 came the back-to-back flops Double Team and Knock Off, which were action comedies co-starring Dennis Rodman and Rob Schneider, respectively. Then came a string of direct-to-video actioners over the next decade, until the career-reviving JCVD in 2008.

Timecop is then worth revisiting for myriad reasons, but I’m most interested in how it’s a capsule of a bunch of very ’90s things which are simultaneously kind of ’80s. In the case of actors, Ron Silver is at his apex asshole in this film, and Mia Sara gets a surprise career boost after not doing anything especially notable since Legend and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Musically, however, we have the Smithereens doing a cover of the Outsiders’ “Time Won’t Let Me” over the end credits, and that’s the most ’90s-as-’80s thing about Timecop.

The Smithereens were an excellent, if somewhat underrated band from New Jersey who had the distinction of holding the same lineup for the majority of their time together, which is impressive in and of itself. The power-pop group had some hits in the ’80s with cuts like “Blood and Roses” and “A Girl Like You,” with beautiful vocals and catchy, if dark, guitar work.

They had their songs in a series of very interesting movies — Burglar, Encino Man, Dangerously Close — and even appeared in Troma’s Class of Nuke ‘Em High, performing “Much Too Much.” However, I’d completely forgotten about the band’s cover of “Time Won’t Let Me” until someone shared it on Twitter a couple weeks ago. I was surprised to discover that there’d been a video made for the song, which is absolutely weird for several reasons.

First, while The Smithereens were kind of revered within the sort of circles which revere power-pop and the like, their 1994 album, A Date with the Smithereens, had tanked hard, so the idea that they were contracted to record a song especially for a big-budget sci-fi actioner is rather surprising on any number of levels.

Second, there wasn’t a soundtrack release for Timecop. Mark Isham’s score came out on compact disc from Varese Sarabande, but the only way to get “Time Won’t Let Me” was as a CD maxi-single from RCA Records. It featured the Outsiders cover, and minute-long snippets of three songs from A Date with the Smithereens. Not even a full song. I can see why you can snag copies for $1.25 on Discogs.

So, all that considered, and they still made a music video? Holy fucking shit, right? And it’s not a cheap one; Van Damme’s in the whole goddamn thing, basically mucking about with computers and sending the band through time as they play. As he states after sirens blare: “I cannot predict what will happen.”

So, he starts flipping switches and pushing buttons, the band starts playing, and as clips from the movie come up, the band’s costumes change to reflect the period of the film: ’30s suits, Civil War soldiers’ uniforms, and then an inexplicable torrential downpour reflecting the movie’s finale. Oh, and Van Damme pretends to play the harmonica for the band. He’s also dressed nothing like his character in the film, unless you count a vest, and I’m not. His hair’s been cut and died blonde as well. I don’t know what’s going on here, but if you watch all the clips, you basically get the plot of the movie in a handy four-minute summary.

Van Damme, sadly, doesn’t bust out any sweet Kickboxer-style dance moves in the video, either, though he teases them by clapping a couple of times, and that’s literally more cruel than if he’d done nothing at all. The band also disappears at the very end of the video, insinuating that the events of Timecop caused the Smithereens to be wiped from existence. That’s darker than I expected, so maybe Van Damme shouldn’t have been so fucking chipper with his “Bon voyage.”

Anyhow, watch the Smithereens do “Blood and Roses” on MTV Unplugged, then do two Sam Cooke tunes with Graham Parker and Jules Shear. It’ll take the bad taste out of your mouth.