NARROW Margin'' takes us over a very familiar roadbed, but the trip is nonetheless enjoyable.
Its familiarity, in fact, may be added reason to see the film, which, to be fully enjoyed, should be attended in a group. Pooling your predictions on which way the plot will go, labeling all the new characters and predicting the surprises is the pleasure this film offers us.
The thriller, which takes place on a train bound for Vancouver, carries us along. It's a very fast ride. The scenery may be the same, but it doesn't take from the trip.
''Narrow Margin'' does have a genuine surprise or two, a novel twist here and there. The guy and girl, for instance, are not romantically entangled. They both maintain their distance throughout the film. They like each other, but that's about it. There is no tumbling in the lower berth.
Gene Hackman and Anne Archer star. He is an assistant district attorney who discovers that a woman has witnessed the execution of a mob lawyer. She, however, refuses to testify until the bad guys, two hired killers, have stalked her and the attorney aboard that train.
James B. Sikking and Nigel Bennett play the killers with cool detachment, but this is really Hackman's movie. He is, at first, disconcertingly Hackman, but by the time the film is into its first hour, we believe him, once again. His dining-car encounter with the two killers is a bright piece of comedy.
''Narrow Margin'' was written and directed by Peter Hyams (''Outland''), who knows how to do an action film. Some of the action, early on, may seem improbable, even for a film of this sort, but then we're talking about a thriller movie here, and as such, this is a pretty good one. We haven't had a really good suspense-on-a-train movie in a long while. It's nice to see this one. It's like going home again and liking it.
** A district attorney tries to protect a murder witness from killers.
CAST: Gene Hackman, Anne Archer, James B. Sikking, J.T. Walsh, M. Emmett Walsh, Susan Hogan, Nigel Bennett
DIRECTOR: Peter Hyams
RATING: R (Language, violence)
RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes