While searching for a television project to promote environmental causes, Olivia Newton-John happened to end up in the NBC TV movie "A Mom for Christmas."

"I have a deal with NBC, and we were looking for an environmental story," Newton-John said in a telephone interview from her home in Malibu. "There was nothing (environmental) until next year, but someone said, `How about this?' ""This" turned out to be "Mom," which airs tonight at 8 p.m. on Ch. 2. In the movie, Newton-John plays a department store mannequin who magically comes to life to fulfill the wish of a lonely, motherless 12-year-old girl (Juliet Sorcey).

"I liked the script - it really just appealed to me," Newton-John said. "It turned out to be lucky timing on my part."

"Mom" is her first appearance in a made-for-TV movie, and the first movie she's made since "Two of a Kind" in 1983.

One fringe benefit of the film, which was shot in Cincinnati, was that Newton-John's 4-year-old daughter, Chloe, accompanied her on location.

"She was there for most of the filming," Newton-John said. "We had a wonderful time together.

"But she came away saying, `I want to be an actress now,' of course."

Chloe also turned her mother into an environmental crusader - a cause that's at the forefront of almost everything she does these days.

"My daughter being born really sparked that drive in me," Newton-John said. "It's changed a lot of things. Put my priorities in order."

"I really feel responsible to try and help save the world for her and other children.

She's quick to point out that her last album came out in a liner made of recycled paper, and included tips on recycling. She's also done voice-overs for a Hanna-Barbera cartoon series that promotes environmentalism.

The press kit for "A Mom for Christmas" even included Newton-John's "tips for a planet-friendly holiday."

"And on the set of the movie, we didn't use paper cups. Everyone had a mug with their name on it," she said.

"If I can use my celebrityhood to make people aware of what's going on in the world, then that's great."Mr. Spud feels a little bit like Mr. Grinch today. And he wishes he didn't have to be the bearer of bad tidings.

"A Mom for Christmas" is an attempt to create a bit of holiday magic. It's earnest, family-oriented and wholesome.

It's also dreadful.

The writing is poor, the directing is worse. The acting isn't good - Olivia Newton John is more convincing as a mannequin than as a real person.

It's trite, manipulative, transparent and overly sappy.

In other words, it doesn't come close to any of the high aspirations it appears to have.

The Walt Disney Company, which produced the movie, has the gall to call it "Capra-esque." If Frank Capra were alive, he'd probably sue for libel.

Oh, young children may enjoy it. It isn't any worse than most of the cartoons they watch.

But it isn't any better, either.

If you sit down to watch it with your kids, it might be a good idea to bring a book along so you have something to hold your attention.