In this threadbare thriller, the Mob messes up the sex life of divorced publishing executive Carol Hunnicut, played by Anne Archer. On a blind date in Los Angeles with Mob mouthpiece Michael Tarlow (J.T. Walsh), Carol accompanies him to his hotel suite only to watch in horror — unobserved in an adjoining room — as a crime lord (Harris Yulin) and his guntoting stooge blow the lawyer away for dipping in the till.
A terrified Carol high-tails it to a remote cabin in the Canadian woods. In hot pursuit is district attorney Robert Caulfield (Gene Hackman), who wants Carol to testify and put the scuzzballs away; she’d rather hide. Also tracking her are two Mob hit men, played by James B. Sikking and Nigel Bennett. After Caulfield gets Carol in his custody, they board a train for Vancouver and spend the next twenty hours dodging their executioners.
This is vintage B-movie material, and if you really want to catch a vintage B movie that uses the material effectively, try the original 1952 version of the same name. Peter Hyams, the writer-director-cinematographer of this remake, has a fatter budget, major stars and a bigger train, but his pacing is killingly slack — just as it was in The Presidio and Running Scared. Hyams seems to like giving audiences plenty of time to suspend disbelief.
Nor is characterization Hyams’s strong suit. And his idea of wit is having a little boy on the train say “shit.” But even in reduced circumstances, Hackman is a resourceful actor — he gives this deskbound DA a bookish awkwardness that adds a satisfying edge to his climactic action heroics. He’s the only element in Narrow Margin that’s not disposable.