‘Human Target’ on Fox

Television Critic

Fox’s new adventure series “Human Target” is a brilliant reminder that if you make your characters appealing enough, their banter sharp enough and the action sequences lively enough, you can not only get away with all sorts of absurdities -- a fistfight in the ventilator duct on a runaway high-speed train! A jumbo jet flying upside down! An air marshal who uses handcuffs that can be picked by a hairpin! -- you can actually make those absurdities part of the fun.

“Human Target” is based on a comic book by the same name, and writer and executive producer Jonathan E. Steinberg does an admirable job preserving the smart-mouth humor and ker-pow, splat fun while creating story lines and characters grounded in the alpha-male charm that made guys like Pierce Brosnan, Bruce Willis and Robert Conrad so popular.

“Human Target”: In a review of the TV series “Human Target” in Friday’s Calendar section, the character of Patrick Jane in “The Mentalist” was incorrectly identified as Thomas Jane. —

The human target in question is Christopher Chance, a man with a checkered past and jaw of steel. He is played by Mark Valley, who bears a passing resemblance to Conrad, and who is having a very good year. In February 2009, he married “Fringe” star Anna Torv; in early episodes of “Fringe,” Valley played her character’s traitorous partner/lover, John Scott, who turned into something resembling those awful clear-plastic-encased anatomy models.

As Scott, Valley was, frankly, a bit of a bore, even as the ghost/hallucination he eventually became, but then he wasn’t given much to do, a fact Fox more than makes up for in “Human Target.” Here, he’s not only given plenty to do, he does it with the sort of twinkly-eyed one-liners that can take a hard-working actor (Valley has a credit list as long as your arm) and turn him into a big fat star.

“Are you crazy?” asks an explosive-laden gunman as Chance stares down his gun barrel. “Is that a rhetorical question?” Chance answers.

“The Mentalist’s” Thomas Jane better watch out -- Christopher Chance is handsome and funny, and the only vests he wears are Kevlar.

Now working as a high-risk security guard -- no job too big, too small or too preposterous, and apparently you can pay him in tequila -- Chance is “managed” by the perpetually exasperated Winston (Chi McBride), whose job is to find Chance work and then make sure he doesn’t kill himself doing it. McBride had a similar I’m-not-a-pessimist-I’m-a-realist role on “Pushing Daisies,” so it was reassuring to see him get involved in the actual fieldwork in the second episode.

Rounding out the team is the marvelous Jackie Earle Haley, returned to us not so long ago from child-actor limbo via “Little Children” and here providing an instantly convincing computer savant who is just as menacing as he is brilliant

While it would be nice to have a female in the group, an initial fraternity saves the series from becoming instantly bogged down in issues of “lerve,” a situation that has plagued similar shows including, most recently, “Chuck.” As it is, “Human Target” is free to wallow in the action-adventure excitement of brilliantly off-kilter characters, high-quality production values and truly groovy fight sequences.

And there are, and will be, gals aplenty as guest stars. In the first episodes, Chance is hired to protect the woman who invented the first high-speed train connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles. She is, of course, so dazzlingly beautiful she is played by Tricia Helfer, “Battlestar Galactica’s” Number Six, and just as stubborn and controlling as Chance, even as her train begins to disintegrate beneath her.

Likewise, in the second episode, Chance meets his match in a gorgeous flight attendant (Courtney Ford, recently brilliant as a psycho reporter in “Dexter”) who keeps her head even as two unknown assassins attempt to take out an equally unknown computer genius.

Eventually one or the other of these lovelies will complicate Chance’s life, but mercifully nothing beyond a few glances of sympathy and regret occur in the early episodes. With any luck it won’t happen for a while, because the boys are just having too much fun.

As will viewers of every age and demographic. It’s hard to imagine where the writers will take us next -- aboard a nuclear submarine? Atop a very tall skyscraper? -- but no doubt it will be a ride worth taking. Over and over again.