If marketing weren't such a concern, this sequel to "The Santa Clause" would be called "The Mrs. Clause." That's because the dilemma facing Tim Allen's divorced suburban dad turned Jolly Ol' St. Nick is that he must find a new wife within 28 days or relinquish his big red suit and beard.

"The Mrs. Clause" wouldn't work as a title because it would imply that the movie is centered around a female - a taboo when marketing to boys (girls, on the other hand, will see boy-centric films) - and that it's about grown-ups. Sure, Santa's an adult, too, but he's Santa - and his primary relationships invariably are with kids.

Still, "The Santa Clause 2" is mostly about grown-ups. Charlie Calvin, the son of Allen's Scott Calvin, is back as a 16-year-old and again is played by Eric Lloyd. But the screen time is dominated by Scott's search for a spouse and his wooing of Charlie's strict principal, Carol (Elizabeth Mitchell).

No question, the new movie is amiable family entertainment, and Allen is such an affable actor that maybe kids won't begrudge him seeking romantic fulfillment in order to remain their favorite Santa - although how many kids consider him their favorite Santa eight years after the original "Santa Clause" is up for debate. But Santa out of costume and on a date does not classic Christmas material make.

In the first "Santa Clause," which temporarily established Allen as a movie star, Scott discovers Santa's suit, puts it on and literally grows into the role of the Christmas hero. He also learns how to be a better father.

When "The Santa Clause 2" opens, Scott's Santa is happily reigning in the North Pole's massive toy factory until he learns he is literally "ungrowing" out of his role. As Head Elf Bernard (David Krumholtz again) informs him, unless he finds a mate by Christmas Eve, he'll keep losing weight and facial hair until he's no longer Santa.

So Scott must head back to his suburban hometown to find a wife and to give some guidance to Charlie, who has landed on Santa's "naughty" list. See, Charlie has been spray-painting pro-Santa slogans on the school walls because he thinks the principal, Carol, is anti-Christmas.

As far as troubled-teen syndrome goes, Charlie's case is awfully mild. Carol also isn't that much of a Grinch; she's actually a good-hearted soul whose actions are consistent with the basic church-state separation recognized in many schools. Her motivations, however, are more personal, and her eventual explanation of her Christmas aversion is just the kind of corn that "Gremlins" upchucked 18 years ago.

Even Charlie's Cosby-sweater-wearing stepdad (Judge Reinhold) is more of a pedantic doofus than a true heavy, meaning there's very little conflict in the real world.

So the movie's committee of writers creates problems on the North Pole, namely a robotic clone Santa that No. 2 Elf Curtis (Spencer Breslin, a lookalike for "Jerry Maguire" kid Jonathan Lipnicki) engineers to fill in while the real one's away. In a nice piece of visual humor, the faux Santa looks spookily like a "Toy Story" version of "Toy Story" voice star Allen.

But once you get past the novelty of this Toy Santa, you must endure the tedium of his Grinch-like act as he runs the North Pole like an efficiency-crazed CEO and deems most kids worthy of Christmas coal. Will Santa find a wife and save Christmas? Hmm...

The movie has some clever bits, like a meeting of such magical characters as Mother Nature (Aisha Tyler), Cupid (Kevin Pollak) and the Tooth Fairy (Art LaFleur), who seeks permission for a name change. There's also a sweet scene in which school faculty members have their longtime Christmas wishes fulfilled. (Note we're talking about adults again.)

The director is Michael Lembeck, a TV veteran making his feature-film debut, and "The Santa Clause 2" passes by like an innocuous small-screen Christmas special. The North Pole sets are bright and candy-coated in a theme park way, while the special effects are serviceable. The animatronic reindeer flatulence is an unnecessary touch.

2 stars (out of 4)
"The Santa Clause 2"

Directed by Michael Lembeck; written by Don Rhymer, Cinco Paul, Ken Daurio, Ed Decter, John J. Strauss; photographed by Adam Greenberg; edited by David Finfer; production designed by Tony Burrough; music by George S. Clinton; produced by Brian Reilly, Bobby Newmyer , Jeffrey Silver. A Walt Disney Pictures release; opens Friday, Nov. 1. Running time: 1:38. MPAA rating: G.
Scott Calvin/Santa - Tim Allen
Carol - Elizabeth Mitchell
Bernard - David Krumholtz
Charlie Calvin - Eric Lloyd
Neil Miller - Judge Reinhold Laura Miller - Wendy Crewson

Mark Caro is the Chicago Tribune movie reporter.