Warner's no-frills line of double feature catalogue titles reaches into the company's vaults and offers up a double dose of quality Van Dammage for fans of the muscles from Brussels. Bloodsport was the one that made him a marquee name and launched his glory days, while Time Cop is a fun entry from the era in which his star power was just starting to wane a little bit. Both discs are housed on the same fifty gig Blu-ray disc. Here's a look at what you'll find:
Van Damme's leading man debut was 1987's Bloodsport, a fine Cannon Films production that saw the man play a military man named Frank Dux who gets invited to a prestigious underground fighting competition held in Hong Kong known as the Kumite. Despite insistence from his superior officers, soldier Dux takes a flight overseas to compete and soon strikes the fancy of a sexy lady reporter (Leah Ayres) who hops into bed with him at the drop of a hat.
As the competition begins, last year's favorite, a psychopath named Chong Li (Bolo Yeung), appears to be the favorite to win once again when he easily takes down everyone he gets in the ring with. He didn't count on Dux's elite martial arts training, however, and it soon becomes obvious that Chong Li will do whatever it takes to bring Dux down before he becomes a threat to his title. Dux, on the other hand, is prepping for the inevitable showdown with Chong Li while trying to avoid the U.S. Army guys (Norman Burton and Forest Whitaker) who have shown up looking for him.
Short on plot but high on ass kicking action, Bloodsportisn't deep or even particularly original but it is a lot of fun. The story exists really only to string together the fight scenes that make up the vast majority of the movie but even if there are plot holes big enough to fly a 747 through the movie is pretty entertaining. Van Damme's acting here is quite wooden, as it is in many of his films made before the millennium (say what you will but sometime after the year 2000 he turned into a very respectable actor), but he's got a charisma and a screen presence and a confidence that makes it easy to get behind him and want him to win the day. Bolo Yeung makes for a fine opponent, using his bulk and his size and his intimidating glare to really ham it up and convince you that he does want to kill Dux, while the rest of the supporting cast are all fine if fairly forgettable (including Whitaker, who doesn't really have a whole lot to do here at all).
When you keep in mind that this movie was made well before UFC and other mixed martial arts leagues were televised, it's easy to see how Bloodsport would capture an action loving audience. Yes, it definitely borrows from tournament based kung fu films made years before and it isn't particularly original or well acted or even really very logical, but it delivers a lot of great fighting and enough action that it's good, and completely brainless, entertainment.
Based on the Dark Horse comic book of the same name, Time Cop was directed in 1994 by Peter Hyams and produced by none other than Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert of The Evil Dead fame. While in Bloodsport Van Damme may have had something to prove, here his star power is firmly established and the storyline plays up to that.
Set in the not too distant future, the film follows the exploits of Max Walker (Van Damme) who works for the Time Enforcement Commission. Their job is to stop criminal types from exploiting the technology that allows them to go back in time and alter things for profit. One night, after work, Max's beautiful wife, Melissa (Mia Sara), is murdered after taking the brunt of an attack that was meant to kill him in her place. With this on his mind constantly, he throws himself into his job and becomes the best at what he does, even going so far as to turn in his own partner.
Soon, what Max believes to be a routine investigation puts him on the trail of a United States senator named McComb (Ron Silver) who appears to have ties to some time travelling criminals. Max's boss and trusted friend, Eugene Matuzak (Bruce McGill) urges him not to go too far but when Max is able to connect the case to his wife's murder, all bets are off and he is soon hell bent on bringing McComb to justice even if it does look like the senator is going to become the next President of the United States.
While Bloodsport is minimal by most standards, this second, later film is all about the spectacle. Here there are a lot more effects set pieces and sci-fi props, highlighted by the time travel device itself which hurls those who control it through a vortex with all manner of swirling visual and audible effects. Van Damme's acting is a little bit better here, and he does do a fine job of portraying the desolate and destitute character that he becomes once he loses his wife. The supporting cast? Nothing to write home about, really, though Silver is fun as the lead villain.
The movie's story moves along at a good pace and plays with some interesting themes and ideas as it all starts to unravel. The film doesn't really exploit the characters' ability to time travel as effectively as it could and much of the picture takes place only in the distant future (which looks an awful lot like the late nineties) but it's still good fun. There's a decent amount of action here, though not as much as in some of the other films Van Damme starred in around the same time, and if the effects work doesn't always hold up by modern standards it doesn't always fall flat on its face either.
Both films arrive on Blu-ray in VC-1 encoded high definition 1080p widescreen transfers, Bloodsport in 1.85.1 and Time Cop in 2.40.1. Bloodsport, being the older of the two films and made on a smaller budget, does show its age in spots. Expect a bit of natural looking film grain and some mild specks here and there but no serious print damage. Time Cop is cleaner and boasts stronger and more vibrant colors while both films have fairly decent black levels. Detail is improved here over what we've seen before, particularly in facial close ups, and there's a lot more depth and texture to both films than the previous DVDs could provide. Are these the very embodiment of the best that Blu-ray can offer? No, they're not, but they look pretty good. Shadow detail is occasionally problematic for both pictures, with some of the darker scenes looking a bit too murky with fine detail tending to disappear into the night, but outside of that, you can't really complain too much, the movies both look as good as anyone probably expected them to.
Bloodsport arrives with an English language DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that sounds clean and clear but never really sets anything on fire. Dialogue is easy to follow and the martial arts scenes have some nice power behind the hits, while the score is properly balanced and does a fine job of enhancing everything from the fights to the love scene. Time Cop has a more interesting DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix behind it that provides some welcome rear channel activity throughout the film. The time travel scenes in particular sound very good, as the channel separation does a great job of putting you in the middle of the vortex as it opens up around you. Bass response is fine on both films and there are no problems to report with any hiss or distortion for either of the two films included on the disc. Alternate French language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo tracks are offered for both pictures and subtitles are provided in French, Spanish and English SDH.
There's a static menu and chapter stops supplied for each of the two films on the disc, but that's it. There aren't any actual supplements included here at all.
Van Damme's fan base will appreciate the upgrade in audio and video quality that this barebones release offers, even if it doesn't contain any extra features whatsoever. Videophiles won't ever use this disc as demo material but it does offer improved quality and clarity over previous standard definition offerings. As to the movies themselves? They both remain a lot of fun and two fine examples of Van Damme's glory days. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.