Remaking a foreign film for American audiences is tricky business - and generally a bad idea.

Remaking a foreign film for American audiences is tricky business - and generally a bad idea.

Even when an American remake pulls off a solid telling of a story for people who apparently can't or won't read subtitles (recent examples include U.S. versions of "Let the Right One In" and "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), they rarely make the case against the original.

But the more egregious sin is a movie that feels the need to Americanize the story to make it more suitable for mass consumption. See the American version of "The Vanishing" for one of the worst examples of that.

"Secret in Their Eyes" had an amazing template in the 2009 Argentinian release "El secreto de sus ojos." The layered thriller from Juan José Campanella was haunting and good enough to win the Best Foreign Language Film in one of the strongest Oscar classes in recent memory, beating out "A Prophet" and "The White Ribbon."

Billy Ray, who penned scripts for "Captain Phillips" and "The Hunger Games," takes some egregious liberties in his adaptation here in an effort to create wider American appeal for an art house film. That was a fatal error.

The story unfolds over 13 years as we see a trio of investigators taking on a brutal rape-murder case that haunts them. Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Claire (Nicole Kidman) and Jess (Julia Roberts) see their paths cross again when Ray makes a discovery that could crack the case.

Ray updates the setting of Argentina's "Dirty War" in the early '80s to a post-9/11 Los Angeles, and that switch gives things a particularly strange air at the moment, as investigators are casing mosques and trying to protect "snitches." While it's an understandable shift in a search to find equivalence, it also sets a strange overtone that tends to choke out some the story's finer points.

Not that there's a whole lot of subtlety to be had here. While the underlying story remains the same at its core, the Americanization can be felt throughout. Events are too tidy, and the whole thing feels a bit like a "Law & Order: SVU" episode. A good one, but still.

It's also an obvious Oscar bait film, giving its lead actors plenty to chew on. Ejiofor is solid but not at his best, though Roberts' showy performance is the stuff nominations are made of.

Best advice? Skip this and hunt down the original.

"Secret in Their Eyes"

Opens Friday

2 1/2 stars out of 4