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Normally, that "FAMILY APPROVED" dove symbol slapped on DVD covers is more of a warning than an invitation "? one indicating harmless but witless tripe that expects all it needs to ingratiate itself to viewers is delivering a sweet message, particularly one shoved down their throats.

"Nativity!" bears such a symbol, but it is not such a movie. The BBC Films comedy has a feel-good vibe, but also a palpable ballsiness within the confines of a PG rating.

Ever-genial Martin Freeman (TV's "Sherlock") plays Paul Maddens, an elementary teacher at a Catholic school in Britain who's still smarting over his girlfriend, Jennifer (Ashley Jensen), leaving for Hollywood. His world of misery gets worse when he's put in charge of staging the school's annual nativity play, and competition with a rival prompts him to tell a little white lie that Jennifer and her Hollywood cohorts will return not only to watch the production, but shoot it and scout for talent.

Suddenly, Paul's a hero in town, and he can't see a way out, other than to aim for the impossible: turning his "worthless" class of kids into singing and dancing superstars. His only help? His buffoonish teaching assistant (Marc Wootton), an overweight, well-meaning slob who'll remind you of Chris Pratt's character in TV's "Parks & Recreation."

Now, of course, "Nativity!" comes complete with the expected happy ending, but the path it takes to get there isn't always predictable. And even if it were, Freeman and company infuse the Christmas comedy with more coolness than most casts would, just by virtue of being who they are.

The kids are cute, the script has several laugh-out-loud moments, and the film has yearly potential written all over it. As my wife said, "That wasn't as good as 'Love Actually,' but it was close." "?Rod Lott


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