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David Dastmalchian, Karen Gillan

“ALL CREATURES HERE BELOW” My rating: B

91 minutes | No MPAA rating

Filmed mostly in Kansas City, Collin Schiffli’s “All Creatures Here Below” reminds of a 21st-century retooling of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

Its background is not the Great Depression but rather the hardscrabble world of the contemporary underclass. In lieu of the childlike giant Lenny it offers a young woman of similar simplicity, though her mental/emotional fragility is born less of genetics than a ghastly past.

And like Steinbeck’s novel,  David Dastmalchian’s screenplay is rooted in a fatalism that offers only brief flickers of stubborn — and elusive — hope.

The good news is that the piece has been so well acted by its two leads that it keeps us involved long after our logical sides tell us it’s time to bail.

Gensan (Dastmalchian) and Ruby (Karen Gillan) are a young couple living hand to mouth in Los Angeles.

In the film’s first few minutes he is laid off from his job making pizzas (corporate is trimming the work force) and she is let go from her gig on the cleaning crew of a megachurch…apparently Ruby can’t keep from hanging around the nursery, which she has been told is off limits to her. (In Mice… Lenny has a thing for rabbits; Ruby obsesses about babies.)

Desperate for cash, Gensan wagers his severance paycheck on an illegal cockfight. He loses big but in the ensuing chaos of a police raid manages to make off with a stolen car and a wad of cash from the betting table. He gets word to Ruby to meet him away from their apartment; they have to get out of Dodge.

She shows up as directed, only she has with her the infant daughter of their neighbor. Ruby has found the child unattended and decided that she’d be the better mother.

Now the frantic — and let’s face it, not very bright — Gensan must navigate a drive across half the country with the maddeningly illogical Ruby and a crying baby who needs diapers, a child car seat, and nourishment (Ruby is so clueless she attempts to breast feed; even Gensan knows you have to be pregnant before that works).

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