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All awkward atmosphere and slight, odd turns, “Adopt a Highway” is precisely the sort of film you’d expect to find Ethan Hawke starring in between blockbusters and Oscar hopefuls: a heartfelt, hole-filled, small-pleasures indie with its best intentions mostly realized.

The work of first-time writer-director Logan Marshall-Green (yes, the actor), “Adopt” is literally small. It runs only 81 minutes and Hawke — aside from a nice interlude by Elaine Hendrix as a cheeky drifter — is pretty much a one-man show. He plays Russell Millings, a man just released from a California prison after serving 21 years for possessing an ounce of pot (thanks, three strikes law).

In welcome contrast to the standard portrayal of just-released convicts, Russ has no swagger and he isn’t out for revenge. In fact he’s downright timid — afraid of the outside world, afraid of going back to prison and mystified by things like email. He’s a none-too-bright emotional wreck.

That makes him a pretty bad candidate for finding a crying baby abandoned in a dumpster, which is what happens while cleaning up one night at the fast food joint where he works. Not knowing what to do, he takes the baby girl back to the motel where he’s staying.

Here Marshall-Green stretches things, making Russ possibly the only human on earth who doesn’t realize babies need to be fed and changed. But he makes up for this by gently going nowhere you’d expect, and that doesn’t mean the baby is a space alien.

“Adopt a Highway” is a warm, compassionate film in which Ethan Hawke spends much of his time talking honestly to a baby. Something about that offers a few rays of hope for cinema.

‘Adopt a Highway’

GRADE: B

Not rated

Running time: 81 minutes

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