On TV: Human Target


Fox's new action drama Human Target comes on like a runaway train full of assassins next week, with the pilot episode airing Sunday at 8, and a second episode airing Wednesday at 9. The series, based on the DC comics graphic novel, concerns a private contractor named Christopher Chance (Mark Valley) who is hired to protect clients and draw out imminent threats like, well, assassins, by making clients appear vulnerable. He also looks and acts like Daniel Craig, so the cinematic parallels really draw themselves. While Human Target's stunt-work and conceits are a little unbelievable, one supporting player adds an immeasurable amount to this slick ride with the few scenes he's in.

In the pilot, our self-assured protagonist is first brought in to thwart a hostage situation (which is mostly resolved before the Metal Gear Solid-like opening credits roll), but later he's hired to protect a woman from what she suspects is a life-threatening foe. The usual gamut of cross-aisle gunfire, vent crawling, and a truly unfeasible escape plan presents itself before the hour is up, and with some attractive mugging and joshing from Valley. During Human Target's sinister moments when the plot finds time to respire amid all its Van-Dammian conceits, a tinge of Hitchcock can even slide into the picture -- and not just because this episode resembles the 70-year-old The Lady Vanishes to a large degree. There's still a prevailing sense of fun in these blockbuster squirt-gun fights, and the shoot-em-up theatrics are presented without the woe of this season's big-budget ABC action failure, Trauma.

Much like how Linda Hunt adds an element of droll sophistication to NCIS: Los Angeles, Human Target finds its own supporting totem in Jackie Earle Haley. The onetime Bad News Bear and Academy Award nominee plays Chance's hired gun Guerrero, and he knocks down each of his rather bland one-liners with detached, unsmiling amusement that punches up the quality of every scene he's in. So, in fact, Human Target isn't quite the hanging-from-helicopters free-for-all you expect from its garish commercials. The sophistication is slight, and our hero's predictable savoir-faire is overbearing, but this Movie Of The Week fare is a meaty midseason replacement -- a worthy popcorn feature that should, honestly, always follow football games.

Movieline Rating: 7