Note: The time slot of “Human Target” has changed. It is now on Wednesdays at 9 p.m.
Tuesdays at 9 p.m.
The original “Human Target” — a 1970s comic book series — depicted the life of Christopher Chance, a bodyguard/detective for hire. Wealthy people whose lives are in danger hire Chance to assume their identities, protect them and expose their would-be assassins. While Chance doesn’t take the place of his clients in FOX’s television interpretation of the comic book series, the new “Human Target” is packed with enough action and detective work to keep viewers entertained.
Mark Valley (“Fringe”) portrays a version of Chance that’s both charmingly intelligent and bluntly violent. His dual nature is evident from the very first scene, when he encounters a deranged man with explosives strapped to his chest. The best dialogue of the entire episode ensues: Chance warns the man that it’s never a good idea for the bad guy to explain his plan. When the guy does anyway, Chance shoots him. The bank blows up, but the crazy guy doesn’t kill the client. And for Chance, that’s all that matters.
Unfortunately, Chance’s lines throughout the rest of the episode aren’t quite as original, and he starts devolving into a generic action hero. While he never becomes boring, Valley plays the character with decreasing depth (barring one scene in which Chance gives an explanation for how he learned Japanese that is both emotional and a complete lie). As it becomes clear that Chance may have a death wish, he becomes less and less distinguishable from other vigilante character in comic books, TV shows and movies.
Luckily, the rest of the cast makes up for Chance’s lack of subtlety. Chi McBride (“Pushing Daisies”) portrays the likeable Winston, who takes care of Chance even when Chance won’t take care of himself. And Jackie Earle Haley (who played a vigilante killer himself in 2009’s “Watchmen”) is particularly talented as the information gathering, morally ambiguous Guerrero. In a moment clearly indicative of his character, he gets rid of two thugs by calmly promising to murder them in their sleep. Haley easily steals the show.
But while Chance may not be as interesting, he still entertains by virtue of constantly beating up bad guys, especially in a lengthy fight sequence inside the ventilation shaft of a speeding bullet train. This excellently choreographed fight scene is not only thrilling, but also develops Chance’s character, as he doesn’t hesitate to brutally kill his client’s enemies. While such action moments don’t entirely excuse the absurdities of the plot during the bullet train segment of the episode, they are nonetheless fun to watch.
Beyond the three main actors, there’s less to praise, as the side characters in the first episode’s plot aren’t very believable and don’t have enough time to become so. It would be helpful to see Chance integrate himself into his clients’ lives for a while longer before his cover is blown and he has to punch his way out of the situation.
As such, “Human Target” isn’t what it could be. But with stronger writing backing his performance, Valley could easily become the new face of the action hero on primetime TV.