'12 Men of Christmas'

A Lifetime movie so cheerfully hokey it's easy to get lost in its light dusting of holiday romance.

As anyone who attends movies knows, what every tight-assed, high-strung PR gal really needs is a well-muscled, taciturn mountain man, and vice versa. On that wispy strand of mistletoe — along with the diminutive shoulders of perky Kristin Chenoweth, and the broader ones of hunky Josh Hopkins — hangs “12 Men of Christmas,” a Lifetime movie so cheerfully hokey it’s easy to get lost in its light dusting of holiday romance. Mostly, it’s an excuse to admire Chenoweth, who — her recent “I’m out of work” Emmy speech notwithstanding — remains happily employed.

A driven, hard-charging New York PR executive, Chenoweth’s E.J. Baxter has the air let out of her idyllic-looking life in one fell swoop, losing both her job and fiance. Casting about for work, she finally takes a job in a small Montana town trying to help boost local tourism and conventions.

Soon enough, though, she’s found a mission that will serve both her objectives and her employer’s — seeking to raise money for the all-volunteer search-and-rescue team. Instead of the usual bake sales, though, she decides to capitalize on the guys’ chiseled abs by getting them to pose for a Christmas calendar — a proposal not surprisingly met with some initial resistance.

Among those sparring with E.J. is Will (Hopkins, he of “Swingtown” and now “Cougar Town”), described as the local George Clooney. They not only meet cute, but she subsequently sees him naked and spends the next two acts insulting his, er, shortcomings.

And so it goes. Director Arlene Sanford and writer-producer Jon Maas struggle to find enough impediments and subplots to flesh out the story, though there is an extensive calendar-shoot montage that’s so fabulously silly as to be worth that week’s cable bill. There’s also Anna Chlumsky as E.J.’s assistant, who has a long-standing crush on one of the guys.

Mostly, the movie provides an opportunity to watch Chenoweth and Hopkins be adorable together — and pity cinematographer Peter Benison, who faces the thankless task of shooting them in the same frame without putting the former on a milk crate.

Like Hallmark’s annual holiday-movie onslaught, “12 Men of Christmas” makes no pretense of placing anything new in the audience’s stockings. Although Broadway star Chenoweth never unleashes her golden pipes, when she sits teary-eyed and alone watching “Miracle on 34th St.” and the Times Square ball drop, it’s a reminder that with the right talent, it’s possible to make even the moldiest of material sing just a little.

12 Men of Christmas

Lifetime, Sat. Dec. 5, 9 p.m.

Production

Filmed in Alberta by Lisa Demberg Prods. in association with Fox Television Studios. Executive producers, Jon Maas, Lisa Demberg; co-executive producer, Wendy Hill-Tout; producer, Greg Copeland; director, Arlene Sanford; writer, Maas; based on the book "Decent Exposure" by Phillipa Ashley;

Crew

camera, Peter Benison; production designer, Louise Middleton; editor, Anita Brandt Burgoyne; music, David Lawrence; casting, Julie Tucker, Ross Meyerson. 120 MIN.

Cast

E.J. Baxter - Kristin Chenoweth Will - Josh Hopkins Jan - Anna Chlumsky Roz - Erin Dilly Jason - Stephen Huszar Lillah - Heather Hanson
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