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'Kidnapped' likable matinee fare

PBS's ''Masterpiece Theatre" usually delivers adaptations that don't involve a lot of chasing through forests and crossing of swords. If there's any heavy breathing in the franchise's hollow mansions, it's probably the result of villainous words or eye-poppingly tight corsets. The action sequences, such as they are, generally require only teacups, spoons, and silver tongs.

''Kidnapped," a two-parter premiering tomorrow at 9 p.m. on Ch. 2, is based on Robert Louis Stevenson's adventure yarn set in 1751, after England's occupation of Scotland. It's not your typical ''Masterpiece Theatre," but then neither was last week's spin on Sherlock Holmes starring Rupert Everett. It's the PBS version of a youth-market grab, a jaunty buddy movie whose heroic pair aren't quite models for teeth-whitening products. ''Kidnapped" has a lot of good energy and likable acting; but it might be more appropriate as a family matinee rather than as a Sunday-night feature. It has rainy Sunday afternoon written all over it.

The central character in the movie is Davie Balfour (James Anthony Pearson), a sheltered boy from the Scottish lowlands who sets out to collect his rightful family inheritance. But his greedy uncle has Davie kidnapped and sold into slavery, which eventually leads him into an odd but dynamic duo with legendary highland outlaw Alan Breck (Iain Glen). As they escape and travel together seeking justice, Breck, with his dashing good looks and his political passion, teaches Davie a few things about activism. And Davie, of course, brings out the heart in Breck's larger-than-life extroversion.

The movie is expertly paced, with a few little cliffhangers along the way to tweak us with action thrills. Davie and Breck fight a boatful of baddies; Davie and Breck are accused of murder and chased by bounty hunters; Davie and Breck appear to be the next meal for a group of cannibals. And the acting is easy to take as, throughout, the two very different men slowly find common ground and get closer. As Davie, Pearson is fittingly naive, talking as if he can barely get his mouth around all his words. He makes Davie's slow coming of age believable, as he quietly adopts Breck's daring influences. And Glen is charismatic as Breck, a stubborn idealist with a few blind spots.

Together, they form the closest thing to the Caped Crusader and his Boy Wonder we'll probably ever find on ''Masterpiece Theatre."

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at

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