I'm an incorrigible romantic when it comes to Christmas.
I offer this unsolicited nugget of personal information as a caveat: You may not be as forgiving of "Call Me Claus" as I was.
"Claus" has a lot going for it, with a heartwarming story about the spirit of Christmas by Sara and Gregory Bernstein and Brian Bird, music by Garth Brooks, and star performances by Whoopi Goldberg and Sir Nigel Hawthorne ("The Madness of King George").
But it's important to keep in mind that "Claus" is a TNT original movie and not a feature film or even an HBO film. And you have to remember that Goldberg's made-for-TV movies, and even her theatrical releases, bomb about 50 percent of the time. "Claus" is no "Christmas in Connecticut" or "White Christmas." Not by a long shot.
But enough of the nay-saying. Let's talk about what's good about "Claus."
The story will tug gently at your heart, especially since it airs early in December and you won't have been inundated by sappy sentiment yet.
Goldberg plays Lucy Cullins, a self-centered, distrustful and cynical producer for a TV shopping network. As the holidays approach, she is assigned is to find an actor to play Santa Claus and pitch products to shopaholic couch potatoes. But time is running out and the auditions are not going well. That's when Hawthorne shows up in the role of Nick, a Santa natural. That's not so surprising, since Nick really is Santa. (It's a shame that Edmund Gwenn isn't still alive. He did this bit of business so well in "Miracle on 34th Street" back in 1947.)
Nick has a problem of his own. He faces mandatory retirement after two centuries on the job, and if he doesn't find a replacement for himself by Christmas Eve, the "or-else factor" kicks in, and the polar ice cap will begin to melt. In a burst of multicultural and gender-bending brilliance, Nick decides that Lucy is the perfect person for the job. But can he thaw Lucy's hard heart in time? Well, of course he can, but suspense is not the key factor in "Claus."
Hawthorne hits on all cylinders as Nick. He looks the part, he acts the part, and he can even make his eyes twinkle on demand. Goldberg trails close behind, and you'll only catch her in the act of acting occasionally, certainly not often enough to spoil the fun.
Brooks' music sets the mood and underscores the plot's ups and downs flawlessly. You'll find yourself wishing there was time for more of his "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and his re-make of Louis Armstrong's "Zat You, Santa Claus?" is charming.
This is the time of year when there's a little kid in all of us. Maybe that's why I'm willing to overlook the flaws in "Claus." Real kids will probably be even more forgiving. And with the world weighing down on all of us as heavily as it has been lately, and with the holidays approaching like speeding reindeer, maybe a little forgiveness even for such a trifle as "Call Me Claus" is not such a bad thing.
Debuts Sunday, Dec. 2 at 8 p.m. on TNT, with repeats scheduled through Dec. 17.
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