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(1999) (Helen Mirren, Katie Holmes) (PG-13)

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Black comedy: Three high school students inadvertently kidnap their mean-spirited history teacher after learning she's ready to ruin one of their lives.
High school senior Leigh Ann Watson (KATIE HOLMES) has always done everything right in her life. Poised to be Grandsboro High's valedictorian, an achievement that will earn her a college scholarship -- and a ticket out of her small town, thus pleasing her blue-collar mom (LESLEY ANN WARREN) -- Leigh Ann's only obstacle to success is Mrs. Tingle (HELEN MIRREN).

The most feared teacher in school -- so much so that even Principal Potter (MICHAEL McKEAN) is nervous around her -- Tingle doesn't like anyone. In particular, she seems to find a perverted glee in making sure that Leigh Ann's history project gets a low enough grade to insure that she comes in second place to Trudie Tucker (LIZ STAUBER), meaning she won't earn the scholarship.

This doesn't sit well with her best friend, Jo Lynn Jordan (MARISA COUGHLAN) who's also felt Tingle's wrath, or Luke Churner (BARRY WATSON), the school's burnout who's willing to do anything to spite Tingle. As such, he's found and copied her final exam, but through a simple mixup, Tingle finds that copy in Leigh Ann's backpack and thus prepares to ruin her academic career.

When the three students' efforts to talk Tingle out of her plan fail, Luke decides to take more drastic steps and kidnaps the wily but venomous teacher in her own home. Having gagged and bound Tingle to their bed, the three then try to figure out what to do next, while handling her secret suitor, Coach Wenchell (JEFFREY TAMBOR), and their teacher's scheme to turn them against one another by playing mind games with them.

Katie Holmes (TV's "Dawson's Creek") and any potential advertising stating that this film is from the writer of the "Scream" movies and "I Know What You Did Last Summer" might draw in some teens.
For thematic content, violence, sexuality, language and some teen drinking.
  • KATIE HOLMES plays a by the books, smart student who ends up going along with the kidnaping of her teacher as things spiral out of control. Along the way she also cusses some and ends up sleeping with Luke.
  • MARISA COUGHLAN plays her best friend who also cusses some, drinks a little and is jealous of Leigh Ann and Luke.
  • BARRY WATSON plays that deadbeat guy who doesn't show any positive initiative at school, but after getting Leigh Ann in trouble, he takes it upon himself to fix things that ultimately means kidnaping their teacher. He also ends up sleeping with Leigh Ann and drinking some.
  • HELEN MIRREN plays their venomous, snobbish and condescending history teacher who turns out to be having an affair with a married man.
  • JEFFREY TAMBOR plays a married man who's having an affair and ends up drinking a great deal of wine at Tingle's home and then passes out drunk.


    OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
    Although teachers are supposed to nourish and encourage the learning process and their students' education, every once in a while a bad apple comes along in some given school who seems determined to make everyone's academic days a living hell. Most students have encountered such anomalies at one point or another, and by being on the "losing" end of the authority/student seesaw, couldn't do anything about it.

    Apparently that was the case for writer-turned director Kevin Williamson. Although he's now a successful screenwriter (penning the "Scream" films and "I Know What You Did Last Summer"), his idea for his first screenplay -- "Killing Mrs. Tingle" -- stemmed from a teacher who told him he couldn't write. While that particular teacher -- if still around -- may debate the artistic merits of his work, Williamson's presumably had the last laugh.

    You may have noticed the difference in the titles. Evidently in the wake of all the recent high school shootings, Dimension Films decided it would be politically correct and make a smart move (to avoid negative publicity) by changing "killing" to "teaching." Actually, the newer title is more appropriate since the film isn't about homicide as in the scribe's horror plots, but is more akin to the shenanigans of "9 to 5."

    That 1980 film, where Dolly Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin inadvertently kidnap their demanding and belittling boss, played by Dabney Coleman, certainly seems a likely influence for this film's plot. Others will obviously see some similarities to "Misery" (a writer tries to outwit a crazed fan who's kidnaped and restrained him in bed) and last year's "Suicide Kings" (where some young men kidnap and restrain a mafioso).

    Despite the familiar plot and a few decent moments, however, the film otherwise isn't particularly that funny or entertaining. Only an over-the-top, full camp performance from the titular character saves the production from complete abysmal mediocrity.

    As the mean-spirited and venomous Mrs. Tingle, Helen Mirren (best known as Det. Chief Inspector Jane Tennison in the TV series "Prime Suspect" and also an Oscar nominee for her work in "The Madness of King George") is an absolute hoot. Playing the camp approach with utmost ferocity, Mirren not only goes against her normal character type, but also creates a comedic villainous character that comes close to being one of the best ever to grace the silver screen. Something of a mixture of Leona Helmsley and "The Wizard of Oz's" Miss Gulch (the Wicked Witch of the West), Mirren as Tingle is a blast to watch.

    Unfortunately, she's saddled with two problems that prevent her performance from going down in the annals of Hollywood's best. It's been said that you're only as good as your competition, and that's certainly the case here. While Williamson has personified his old school self in the form of fellow would-be writer Leigh Ann -- played without much zest by Katie Holmes ("Go," TV's "Dawson's Creek") -- and given her accomplices -- newcomer Marisa Coughlan as her best friend and Barry Watson (TV's "Seventh Heaven") as their hunk friend -- they're clearly no match for Tingle despite having the initial upper hand.

    To make matters worse, Williamson doesn't provide either side with much in the way of good "ammo" for their war of wills. While it's natural that the students wouldn't have many -- if any -- prefabricated plans, their modus operandi (tying her up, taking incriminating photos, etc...) doesn't exactly fall into the clever, audience pleasing variety.

    The same holds true for Tingle, who simply tries to seduce Luke when not pitting the two best friends against one another. In fact, Tingle's reactions to the overall event defy the "What would she really do?" litmus test. While the film is obviously not meant to be viewed as a realistic drama or comedy, viewers will immediately question why Tingle doesn't take appropriate and/or believable measures to free herself.

    Of course if we fully bought into the notion that she saw the students' actions as a challenge -- a point that's partially addressed but never fully supported or developed to make it completely credible -- then her inaction would be understandable. As it stands, one can't help but question why she doesn't scream out for help when not gagged (making her house isolated or super insulated would have solved that), or do the same when Leigh Ann calls Jo Lynn's mom on the phone right next to Tingle's bed (a call from downstairs would eliminate that possibility).

    In general, and despite Mirren's "snake in waiting" type performance that I fully like in concept and somewhat in execution, for a movie like this, the character just doesn't do enough to make the students' life a living hell. Of course the film has plenty of other similar problems (she never needs to use the bathroom and once free, doesn't respond in a very imaginative or believable fashion) and inconsistencies (such as why Leigh Ann would suddenly develop a conscience about having taken photos of a married man with Tingle when she's already aware that he was having an affair).

    Beyond Mirren's performance as the lead character, the rest of them are rather flat, although Marisa Coughlan has a fun moment where she re-creates a scene from "The Exorcist" (which is also referenced another time, making one initially wonder how many more referential movie bits -- ala "Scream" -- will show up).

    Meanwhile, the likes of Jeffrey Tambor (best known as Hank Kingsley on HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show") Lesley Ann Warren ("Victor/Victoria"), Michael McKean (best known as Lenny on TV's "Laverne & Shirley," also "This is Spinal Tap") and Molly Ringwald ("Sixteen Candles," "Pretty in Pink") all have small roles limited in both screen time and development.

    Beyond Mirren's performance, there's not really much reason to see this film. Not as funny as "9 to 5," creepy as "Misery" or as thoroughly blackened as it should have been to be successful, the film doesn't really offer anything new to the inadvertent kidnaping plot and thus doesn't leave much of an impression. As such, we give "Teaching Mrs. Tingle" a 3 out of 10.

    Here's a brief summary of the content found in this PG-13 rated black comedy. The thematic issue of students threatening and then kidnaping a teacher may be troubling to some viewers. In direct relation to that, a moderate amount of violence occurs, some of it a bit bloody, and there are three instances where people are nearly killed by arrows fired from a crossbow. While most everything is played along the lines of black comedy, some of the scenes could be suspenseful to some viewers.

    Beyond the students' bad attitudes, others are present as well, including the way a mean-spirited teacher treats everyone. Some sexual references and dialogue are present, and two of the students end up having sex (although we only see the steamy beginnings of that and no nudity). An affair is also implied, but we don't see any such direct activity.

    Profanity is rated heavy due to 1 use of the "f" word, while other profanities and assorted phrases are present. Some student drinking occurs, and a coach apparently drinks several bottles of wine before finally passing out. While some tempting imitative behavior is present (confronting, threatening and abducting a teacher, changing grades in a teacher's grade book, etc...) most of it's a bit extreme to be casually imitated.

    The film's remaining categories have little or nothing in the way of major objectionable content. Nonetheless, should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness and need more info than what's just been described, we suggest that you take a closer look at our detailed descriptions.

  • While fantasizing about what her future will be like as a Hollywood star, Jo Lynn comments that she'll probably be popping Percodan among other things.
  • Tingle comments to Potter about how hard it is to believe that he's been sober for nearly four years.
  • Luke drinks a beer in the school gym.
  • Luke says that with a bottle of wine he'll be fine for posing in some "dirty" blackmail pictures with Tingle. Later, Luke drinks some wine and then gives some to Tingle. Even later, she comments to Luke that he must have gotten a couple of cheerleaders drunk in his lifetime and thus should know a thing or two about women.
  • Blindfolded and thinking that Jo Lynn is Tingle, Coach Wenchell asks if she's trying to get him drunk and then states that he has a very high tolerance for alcohol. We then see that he's had several bottles of wine and still hasn't passed out yet. Eventually, however, he does pass out from drinking too much.
  • Jo Lynn drinks some wine.
  • Tingle has a slightly bloody scrape across her head where a crossbow arrow grazed her (and we also see a slightly bloody towel).
  • Leigh Ann's nose is bloody while Tingle's head is the same after they fight.
  • Tingle has a venomous and condescending attitude toward everyone, including her students and particularly now toward Leigh Ann.
  • The three students who abduct her and don't give up their plan, obviously have both as well.
  • For his history project, Luke places a large rock on Tingle's desk, proclaims it's "Plymouth Rock" and then sits back down again, all to spite Tingle.
  • Trudie has a victorious and condescending attitude toward Leigh Ann.
  • Luke admits to finding and copying Tingle's final exam and he places the copy in Leigh Ann's backpack (which ultimately gets her in trouble).
  • Leigh Ann lies to her mother about her history project and being the valedictorian.
  • The students decide to pose Tingle in some "dirty pictures" to blackmail her into forgetting this whole incident and letting up on Leigh Ann.
  • We learn that Coach Wenchell -- who's married -- was having an affair with Tingle.
  • Tingle tells a story -- that may or may not be true -- about her best friend sleeping with her husband.
  • Leigh Ann sleeps with Luke despite knowing that Jo Lynn was already interested in him.
  • Having found Tingle's grade book, Leigh Ann changes both her and Trudie's grades to make Leigh Ann the valedictorian. When Leigh Ann later says that they're "going to burn in Hell for this," Luke says that it's "going to be a party."
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may also be tense or suspenseful to some viewers.
  • A scene where Jo Lynn acts out a scene from "The Exorcist" (where the girl is possessed on the bed with voices and writhing) may be unsettling/disturbing to some viewers.
  • Coach Wenchell shows up and lets himself into Tingle's home, leading to some comically suspenseful moments as the students try to prevent him from seeing them or Tingle gagged and bound to the bed.
  • Leigh Ann slowly walks through the house looking for Tingle who appears to have escaped. Her and others' encounters with Tingle during the finale may also be suspenseful.
  • Crossbow: Accidently fired by a student during his history class presentation (with the arrow penetrating a girl's book that she held in front of her face). Later, it's used to threaten others and several people are nearly shot with it.
  • Phrases: "Holy sh*t," "Bastard," "Jeez," "Bitch," "Ass kissing," "Cheese ball," "Loser," "Skank," "Screwed" and "Screw" (nonsexual), "Screw you," "What the..." "Slut bag," "Whore" and "Hussy."
  • After getting Leigh Ann to dare her, Jo Lynn rushes up and plants a kiss on Luke's lips.
  • The students go to Tingle's home to try to convince her to change her mind, and then through a series of mishaps, are somewhat forced into kidnaping her. They then gag and bind her to her bed.
  • We see some miscellaneous kids spraying some sort of cream (shaving or whipping, perhaps) on another student as a joke.
  • The students decide to pose Tingle in some "dirty pictures" to blackmail her into forgetting this whole incident and letting up on Leigh Ann.
  • Having found Tingle's grade book, Leigh Ann changes both her and Trudie's grades to make Leigh Ann the valedictorian.
  • As Jo Lynn nearly kisses Luke who's asleep, she (and we) suddenly hear Tingle and the sudden sound may startle some viewers.
  • A seemingly unconscious or dead person suddenly grabs another person.
  • A heavy amount of suspenseful music -- some of it played comically -- occurs during the film.
  • None.
  • At least 1 "f" word, 11 "s" words, 4 asses (1 used with "hole"), 1 damn and 3 uses of "Oh my God," 2 of "Oh God" and 1 use each of "My God," "God" and "Oh Good Lord" as exclamations.
  • We see a brief glimpse of a picture/poster of some girls in bikinis on a wall.
  • When talking about what they'll be known for in the future, Jo Lynn says that Leigh Ann will be known for being a thirty-eight-year-old virgin.
  • We see Jo Lynn dressed like Marilyn Monroe in a somewhat revealing top. In character as that star, she comments that her relationship with JFK was not just about sex and then substitutes "mistress" in place of "country" in JFK's famous, "Ask not what your country can do" quote.
  • When Luke sees Leigh Ann and Jo Lynn hugging (just from friendship), Luke jokingly asks, "Want to make it a three way?"
  • Commenting on Tingle's lack of a TV, Jo Lynn asks about where else one can see a program about a man having a sex change to become a lesbian.
  • Tingle comments to Luke that he must have gotten a couple of cheerleaders drunk in his lifetime and thus knows a thing or two about women.
  • Having let himself inside Tingle's home, Coach Wenchell announces that he's there and calls himself "spanky" and states "I miss my chili momma" and that he wants his "pom poms." He then says "Remember last time...that thing you did?" Jo Lynn then poses as Tingle and blindfolds the coach that excites him and he then asks if she's trying to get him drunk. After he's had several bottles of wine he makes a comment about her spanking him. He then grabs Luke's hand and starts kissing it (thinking it's Tingle) and then jumps on top of him and briefly kisses him before passing out.
  • Jo Lynn shows some cleavage as does Tingle when they open her robe (to take some "dirty" blackmail pictures) and see her in her sexy, low-cut bra. We then see that the students have put Coach Wenchell -- who's passed out -- in bed with Tingle (no nudity) and that his head is resting on her cleavage.
  • Tingle tells a story -- that may or may not be true -- about her best friend sleeping with her husband.
  • Leigh Ann and Luke passionately kiss and then lower themselves down to the floor where they continue. He then says that he's dreamt about this (and she says "Don't ruin it") as she tears open her shirt and then does the same to his (he's lying under her on the floor). She then shows some cleavage as she takes off her tank top and we see her in her bra. He then sensuously kisses her neck and then down into her cleavage (and the camera then pans over to the fireplace as they presumably have sex). We then see Tingle listening to their sexual sounds coming up through the vent in her room. Later, we see Leigh Ann and Luke lying on the floor covered with some blankets and she exclaims, "Wow."
  • A substitute history teacher (played by Molly Ringwald) talks about Napoleon and Josephine and comments on Josephine dropping her panties and "gang banging" everyone in town.
  • Jo Lynn tells Leigh Ann, "Look me in the eye and tell me you didn't sleep with Luke." Of course, she can't and then admits to sleeping with him.
  • Leigh Ann comments that her mom often falls asleep with lit cigarettes still in her hand. Sure enough, we then see Leigh Ann having to take one from her mother's hand while she sleeps.
  • None.
  • The possible reasons behind Tingle's treatment of everyone else.
  • The students and their criminal approach to solving their problem.
  • A student explaining his history project accidently fires his crossbow and the arrow penetrates, but stops in a girl's book that she had in front of her face.
  • Trying to get Tingle to change her mind about Leigh Ann, Luke aims a loaded crossbow at the teacher. Tingle then twice hits Luke and Jo Lynn grabs the crossbow that accidently fires and grazes Tingle's head, sending her crashing to the floor unconscious.
  • The students then take Tingle upstairs (banging her head against the wall) and then gag and bind her to her bed.
  • Tingle suddenly grabs Jo Lynn and starts to strangle her, but stops when Luke aims the crossbow at her again.
  • We hear the sound of someone being hit (presumably over the head and knocked unconscious based on the sound).
  • Tingle chases a girl and then smashes her into a wall. They then struggle on the floor and we see that the girl's nose is bloody as is Tingle's head.
  • A person falls down a flight of stairs and appears to be dead or unconscious.
  • Tingle fires a crossbow and the arrow appears to strike and kill a person (but the person turns out to be okay).

  • Reviewed August 9, 1999 / Posted August 20, 1999

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