Teaching Mrs. Tingle

on August 20, 1999 by Annlee Ellingson
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   Kevin Williamson has lost his edge. The wickedly clever screenwriter behind the revitalization of the horror genre ("Scream" and "Scream 2") and boom in TV teen dramas ("Dawson's Creek") has not only forsaken the "Scream" franchise but turned out a directorial debut that's neither wicked nor clever.
   Williamson darling Katie Holmes ("Dawson's Creek") stars as Leigh Ann Watson, one of the best students in her high school who's depending on a college scholarship to escape her town and her mother's life as a waitress. The only thing that stands in her way is Mrs. Tingle (Helen Mirren), her history teacher who seems determined to see her fail. When Mrs. Tingle falsely accuses Leigh Ann of cheating, the salutatorian and her friends go to her teacher's home to plead her case, and from there events spiral out of control, resulting in Mrs. Tingle's near murder and a hostage situation.
   Mirren's appropriately over-the-top performance-marked by her icy glare, biting words and sly manipulation of her captors' emotions-is undermined by her character's complete lack of motivation for her evil deeds. A backstory is hinted at here and there: She wants to see her students fail because she was never able to escape the godforsaken town. But why does she favor another straight-A student over Leigh Ann? Why didn't she ever move away? And what's so bad about this place, anyway? Leigh Ann's rationale is equally sketchy. Surely a girl as bright as she realizes that tying up and gagging her history teacher isn't the only way to get into college.
   Jeffrey Tambor, Michael McKean and Molly Ringwald, cast here solely for wink-wink familiarity in otherwise minimal roles, shine in their bit parts, and co-star Marisa Coughlan (a Williamson darling in-the-making, starring in his fall TV show "Wasteland") does a respectably funny re-enactment of a scene from "The Exorcist," though its relevance to the rest of the film is questionable upon reflection. On the whole, though, Williamson fails precisely where he's succeeded so spectacularly in the past: the script.    Starring Helen Mirren, Katie Holmes, Barry Watson and Marisa Coughlan. Directed and written by Kevin Williamson. Produced by Cathy Konrad. A Miramax release. Rated PG-13 for thematic content, violence, sexuality, language and teen drinking. Running time: 96 min.
Tags: Starring Helen Mirren, Katie Holmes, Barry Watson, Marisa Coughlan. Directed, written by Kevin Williamson, Produced by Cathy Konrad, Miramax
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