An Aug. 19 Style section review of "Red Eye" misidentified actress Rachel McAdams's hair color in "The Wedding Crashers." She is a brunette in both films. (Published 8/23/2005)

Sometimes movies are adjectives, and sometimes they're verbs. "Red Eye" is all verb.

That's not to say it's great; it's not. Maybe it's not to say it's good, because it's only sort of good. It is to say, however, that it's nifty.

Fast and furious and tightly focused and blessedly short at 85 minutes, it recalls not so much today's bloated, computer-crazed films, but tighter melodramas of the '50s such as "Narrow Margin" and "The Killer Is Loose." It has the same attributes: a small cast, a compressed time frame, a narrow compass of action, a single dominant dramatic situation, not much detail, and such intensity that you don't notice its absurdities until later, upon reflection.

The situation: An attractive young woman, a Miami Beach hotel middle-manager, takes the overnight flight from Dallas back to Miami. In the airport she meets and later on the flight she sits next to a handsome, charming young man to whom she's attracted. But early into the flight, he lays a trophy before her: her father's wallet.

His pitch: Use your authority in the hotel by phone to arrange that a certain incoming high-powered visitor be moved into a new suite (a seaside locale, all the better for predation by Predator missile). If not, her father, now in the sights of a professional assassin, will be killed.

The decision, assuming the young man is telling the truth (and he is): She must choose whether her father dies or some anonymous Important Man. She has a few hours to decide, she can tell no one, she has no apparent resources, no way of reaching anybody. Tick tick tick, goes the clock, as clocks will.

At first the actress Rachel McAdams seems like just another pretty face. She looked too much like Kate Beckinsale for my taste, and I couldn't even remember her, then a blonde, in "Wedding Crashers" a very few weeks ago. But she does grow on you, and in fact her initial blandness and the way in which, under pressure, it peels back to reveal resourcefulness, grit and even warrior instinct may be one of the movie's best moves. The director, horror guy Wes Craven, a competent pro, has always shown a gift for dealing with actresses; witness his "Nightmare on Elm Street" films. He seems to get something out of McAdams that she didn't show in "Crashers."

As for the bad boy in the aisle seat, he's played by Irish actor Cillian Murphy, who was equally creepy in "Batman Begins" earlier this year. His prime attraction as an actor isn't his pretty-boy looks but his huge, dead, blue eyes. These frozen orbs have a terrifying dullness to them, signifying a soul without empathy or mercy, and when he gets charming you see through it completely and in seconds. He's convincing as a character of cute deportment and malicious will; I kept thinking how good he'd be as novelist Patricia Highsmith's charming psycho Tom Ripley. (Matt Damon played him more tentatively in the movie version of "The Talented Mr. Ripley," John Malkovich more icily in "Ripley's Game.")

Needless to say, there are many little glitches, not that you notice until you're in the parking lot. For one, Brian Cox -- the original Hannibal Lecter -- puts out the wrong vibe as Rachel's father. He's hardly sympathetic, and his best thing as an actor, like Malkovich's, like Murphy's, is his lack of human center. What's he doing in this role?

Then, gee, once she's momentarily broken free of her captor, why doesn't she tell the police? Is that so hard? And, could he give her a knockout blow in a crowded plane so efficiently that . . . nobody would notice? And would she not be bruised terribly by such a thump?

On and on it goes, little imperfections, which for some will ruin the film and for others, more generous in their inclination to suspend disbelief, not. So hungry for coherent thrills are most of us, including myself, that I suspect most will fit into the latter category.

Red Eye (85 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for brutality and emotional intensity.