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Shots of adrenaline: '24,' 'Human Target'

Chuck Barney
Contra Costa Times (MCT)

Want a stark alternative to the hoity-toity glitz and glamour of the Golden Globe Awards? Fox has your back with a full night of high-octane, he-man action.

It kicks off with the new drama "Human Target," starring Mark Valley as a masochistic bodyguard/private detective who smiles in the face of peril. And it culminates with the return of everyone's favorite terrorist-buster, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) in "24."

Actually, at the start of tonight's two-hour Season 8 opener, Jack is in chill-out mode, if you can believe that. Having flirted with death (again) toward the end of Day 7, he's lying low in New York and spending quality time with his daughter, Kim (Elisha Cuthbert), and his adorable little granddaughter.

But clearly, "24" isn't about to go all "Gilmore Girls" on us. And so Episode 1 doesn't even reach the 20-minute mark before Jack is plunged into yet another hellacious ordeal that has him trading gunfire with a couple of dirtbags, watching a helicopter blow up atop a Manhattan high-rise and enduring his first brutal beat-down.

This year's key plot line is tied to an assassination attempt on Omar Hassan (Anil Kapoor, "Slumdog Millionaire"), president of the fictional Middle Eastern nation of Kamistan. He's in town to sign a historic nuclear disarmament treaty with U.S. President Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones).

But evil forces from his homeland apparently are bent on sabotaging the peace process. Thus, the outbreak of violence — and the need for Jack to jump back on the clock.

As usual, the "24" writers have attempted to invigorate their formula with a few fresh touches, not the least of which is the high-energy New York locale. Also, the Counter-Terrorist Unit (CTU) has a dazzling new high-tech base beneath the East River, and a couple of alluring young new operatives played by Katee Sackhoff and Freddie Prinze Jr.

Ah, but some things never change. Beloved CTU data analyst Chloe O'Brien (Mary Lynn Rajskub) is still pouty and put-out, and Jack still speaks in urgent, whispery tones while all hell breaks out around him. As time marches on, you just know the body count will rise, hostages will be taken, an nefarious mole likely will be revealed and an informant (or two or three) will die just seconds before uttering vital intel.

For some, it has become a mostly predictable, tired pattern that causes eyes to roll. But for those who can still check their critical capacities at the door — even after seven seasons — "24" continues to make for pulse-pounding, nail-biting comfort food.

It's obvious that Fox is trying to duplicate the thrill-ride sensations of "24" in "Human Target," which moves to its regular Wednesday time slot after tonight's debut. In just the first two episodes, viewers are whisked to the brink of catastrophe aboard a runaway bullet train and an in-flight airplane that catches fire.

But with Christopher Chance (Valley), "Human Target" gives us a dashing hero who is as cool and glib as Jack Bauer is tightly coiled. He exudes kind of an early-'80s Mel Gibson vibe.

Chance is a danger junkie who immerses himself into the lives of his clients in order to smoke out a threat and thwart it. So crazy and hazardous is this line of work that his cranky partner (Chi McBride) worries Chance has a death wish.

He might. He might not. Whatever the case, it's a blast to watch Valley's character squirm his way out of a major mess, while keeping his droll sense of humor intact. "Human Target" never will be a big-time Emmy magnet, but as a piece of good, escapist fun, it definitely hits the mark.

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