Revenge is a dish served room temperature-ish in this faithful but oddly flattened remake of the Oscar-winning 2009 Argentinian noir of the same name. It’s not for lack of stars; Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, and Chiwetel Ejiofor work hard to make the story their own. Roberts is especially vivid, though most of the attention will probably land on her brutal physical makeunder: Every last vestige of the superstar’s toothy sparkle is subsumed onscreen by muddy contact lenses, a shapeless wardrobe, and sallow, pain-etched pallor.
As Jess, an L.A. cop emotionally shipwrecked by the rape and murder of her teenage daughter, she would seem like the movie’s obvious natural center, but after a handful of strongly drawn scenes early on the focus shifts to her FBI agent partner, Ray (Ejiofor, doing the most he can with a one-note role), who has made it his life’s mission to find the killer, and Claire (Kidman), a rising attorney in the D.A.’s office whose help he needs to crack the case. Much attention is given to their thwarted romance—he’s from “the wrong side of Brooklyn,” she’s basically a 3D rendering of a Town & Country spread—though the connection between them mostly manifests in restrained eyebrow acting and stilted banter.
Writer-director Bill Ray (Shattered Glass) has made two significant changes to the script: He makes the murdered young woman a girl just heading off to college, not a newlywed, and sets flashback scenes in a 2002 Los Angeles heavily shadowed by 9/11 rather than 1970s Buenos Aires mired in Argentina’s domestic dirty war. That allows him to keep the crooked politicking—in both films, the killer is rendered untouchable early on because he’s a police informant—though the shifted context loses some impact along the way. The Spanish-language Secret was a thriller but also a tender love story and a finely shaded meditation on corruption, obsession, and the tricks of memory. In Ray’s hands, it’s essentially a grim procedural with too many moments of untapped potential and a moderately shocking twist. Save his version for a rainy day or a long airplane ride; or better yet, go rent the original. B–