By Terry Kelleher
December 16, 2002 12:00 PM

CBS (Sun., Dec. 15, 9 p.m. ET)

“Old-fashioned” is usually a compliment at holiday time, so I suppose only a Scrooge would criticize this TV movie for employing a traditional Hollywood formula: Take a few kernels of historical fact, add plenty of cooked-up drama, pour on the sentiment, and be sure to give the hero a big speech at the finish.

Jason Alexander works hard as A.C. Gilbert, famous inventor of the Erector set, who is taken aback when the government asks him to quit manufacturing toys and use his factory to produce munitions for U.S. forces in World War I. Later on Gilbert is floored when the feds go further and suggest that he endorse a pitch to parents to buy war bonds at the Yuletide instead of kids’ playthings. “Are you actually talking about canceling Christmas?” Gilbert says like a boy who just found coal in his stocking. After agonizing over his patriotic duty and the fate of his missing-in-action brother (Ari Cohen), Gilbert decides to stand up for seasonal toy sales and the American way.

Plot and characterization are rather thin. Gilbert conducts business with unbelievable benevolence, and his father (Edward Asner) goes from controlling tightwad to proud supporter in a twinkling. Still, Alexander’s energetic performance may put you in the mood to pile presents under the tree.

BOTTOM LINE: The star just manages to sell it