One Christmas treat, one lump of coal

Don't be too quick to dismiss the original cable drama "Stealing Christmas" (7 p.m. Sunday, USA). Sure, it has Tony Danza in a Santa suit, Lea Thompson as a spunky if exasperated mom, and a story about a small town rediscovering the lost meaning of Christmas. Yup, those are usually all of the ingredients you need for forgettable mush, but somehow the movie manages to hang together.

Much of the credit goes to Danza, who turns in a strong and believable performance as Jack Clayton, an incorrigible burglar who escapes a botched department store heist wearing a stolen Santa suit belonging to a guy named Oscar. Clayton takes Oscar's wallet and identity and grabs the first bus out of Chicago. It takes him to the sleepy burg of Evergreen, where Sarah (Thompson), the overwrought manager of a Christmas tree farm, assumes that he's the Santa she hired from an agency.

Desperate to lay low, "Oscar" takes the job and becomes one of the grumpiest and most straight-talking Santas in history. But the kids and adults of Evergreen take to the sardonic St. Nick, and soon he's attending chamber of commerce meetings, exhorting the town's folks to take on the mega-malls, and spruce the place up for the holidays. Little do they know that his civic-mindedness masks a more sinister motive: He wants business to boom so the local bank is filled with cash when he knocks it over on Christmas Eve.

Will Clayton/Oscar/Santa stick to his nefarious plan? Or will his heart be melted by the spirit of the holidays? And will Sarah's hard heart soften? I'll never tell. But "Stealing Christmas" does a good job of keeping you guessing until the very end.

  • Like an over-decorated Christmas tree, "Finding John Christmas" (8 p.m. Sunday, CBS) sags under the weight of too many predictable storylines, hackneyed characters and obvious dialogue. We have a missing hero firefighter accompanied by a shaggy, flea-bitten dog (wrapped in the American flag, no less). And that's just in the first 10 minutes. The cliches go on forever.
  • The controversial miniseries "The Reagans" (7 p.m. Sunday, Showtime) will now air in one sitting.

Tonight's highlights

  • First lady Laura Bush and former first lady Hillary Clinton discuss decorating the executive mansion on "White House Christmas Memories" (4 p.m., HGTV).
  • Nicolas Cage stars in the 2000 drama "The Family Man" (7 p.m., NBC).
  • Stanford vs. Notre Dame in college football action (7 p.m., ABC).
  • "Ice Wars: North America vs. the World" (8 p.m., CBS) features skating by Brian Boitano, Victor Petrenko, Oksana Baiul and others.

Sunday's other highlights

  • Scheduled on "60 Minutes" (6 p.m., CBS): a profile of Lawrence Taylor; a poor Virginia town's uplifting transformation.
  • Jordan's choice of sport doesn't measure up to Uncle Bernie's idea of manliness on "The Bernie Mac Show" (7:30 p.m., Fox).
  • Wealthy heirs become murder victims on "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (8 p.m., NBC).
  • "Big in 2003" (8 p.m., VH1) glances back at the movies, music, shows and trends that defined 2003.


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