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Review

Family ties are threatened in the tepid 'Brahmin Bulls'

Mary Steenburgen makes her character's every glance and hesitation resonate with emotion in 'Brahmin Bulls'

When a character's first on-screen act is as heartless as the one in "Brahmin Bulls," it will take a lot to redeem him.

The character is a thirtysomething architect dealing badly with career frustration and a dying marriage. The cruel act: dumping a house cat on the side of the road.

Things turn out OK for the feline, but the drama that unfolds from that gambit is too tepid to make the perpetrator's redemption, let alone the fulfillment of his artistic vision, anything to root for.

Director Mahesh Pailoor's first feature concerns an estranged father and son, quietly galling each other until their inevitable breakthrough in understanding. While attending a conference in Los Angeles, Ashok (Roshan Seth), a long-widowed Boston professor, stays with his cat-discarding son, Sid (Sendhil Ramamurthy), who doesn't even pretend to be happy to see him.

The two men, of course, have more in common than they'd like to admit, and the screenplay by Pailoor and Anu Pradhan (the director's wife) makes the point in the same forced way that it telegraphs its plot turns.

But in Ashok's reunion with the love of his life (Mary Steenburgen) — the chance to see her after many years is the true reason for his trip — the film taps into a tender wistfulness, Steenburgen making her character's every glance and hesitation resonate with emotion. Speaking of the ayurvedic stages of life, Ashok encourages Sid to get on with matters of work and family. It's his own situation that has urgency, though, while Sid's remains hard to care about.

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"Brahmin Bulls"

MPAA rating: None

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.

Playing: Laemmle's Playhouse 7, Pasadena.

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