Teaching Mrs. Tingle
Rating -

Comedy (US); 1999; Rated PG-13; 96 Minutes

Katie Holmes: Leigh Ann Watson
Helen Mirren: Mrs. Tingle
Marisa Coughlan: Jo Lynn Jordan
Barry Watson: Luke Churner
Liz Stauber: Trudie Tucker
Jeffrey Tambor: Coach "Spanky" Wenchell

Produced by Ted Field, Michael Finnell, Gina Fortunato, Cary Granat, Paul Hellerman, Erica Huggins, Cathy Konrad, Scott Kroopf, Julie Plec, Bob Weinstein and Harvey Weinstein; Directed and screenwritten by Kevin Williamson

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Written by DAVID KEYES

The years in high school are usually the most sensitive and uneasy to a teenager, because they are a reminder that childhood is coming to an end, and that, to some respect, we can no longer depend on the welfare of other people to survive. Our educations reach almost intolerable heights--we have to concentrate on good grades, maintain appropriate GPAs, study school books cover-to-cover, and aim for some sort of college scholarship. But such a challenge has to be undertaken in order to survive. Such a problem plagues Katie Holmes in "Teaching Mrs. Tingle" almost unbearably.

Friends and classes are not what she's worried about, though. Her real fear is generated by her history teacher Mrs. Tingle, whose fearsome and almost sickening attitude can wipe out her chances at getting a scholarship. But the difference between this situation and ours is quite easy to recognize; our world is not bound by the typical Kevin Williamson twists, in which class clowns intimidate slashers, parents brainwash their children, instructors are inhabited by alien beings, and women like Helen Mirren are subject to play dreadfully painful roles like Mrs. Tingle. Our world has real, respectable human beings in it, not people who recite dialogue like they were guests of honor on the Tonight Show.

Since writing the "Scream" pictures, Kevin Williamson has steadily crept towards becoming a second-rate screenwriter, and his newest film, "Teaching Mrs. Tingle," is easily the worst under his belt. Reportedly, the script for the movie was written quite a few years ago, which is evident in almost every detail; characters are flat, dialogue is dimwitted, plot twists are soggy, and the details that fall in between are either predictably provoked or incredibly cruel and depressing. As a horror-comedy, it leaves us feeling like we need hot showers. But for those who are not aware that this is an early effort, it serves as evidence that Mr. Williamson's talent is no longer applicable on the movie screen.

Mrs. Tingle is the meanest teacher in school--so mean that even the principal fears her. Students fall victim to her rage very periodically; some are startled by her cruelty, others targeted. Katie Holmes' character, Leigh Ann, is doing great in her class, until that shrew of an instructor discovers that the "smartest girl in class" stole the answers to an upcoming test. The catch: she was framed. To teach Mrs. Tingle a "lesson," I guess, Leigh Ann and a few other students who are victims of the teacher's insanity decide terrorize her. But like most cruel pranks (ever see "Jawbreaker?"), things go terribly wrong.

The premise is the product of personal hatred. Williamson's later credits, like "The Faculty," and his show "Dawson's Creek," are part of an effort to destroy the credibility of high school instructors, since, as he tells us, one of his own high school teachers denounced his writing ability, and claimed that he would never succeed because of it. Before the "Scream" script, he wrote "Teaching Mrs. Tingle" in hopes that he could prove that teacher wrong. Unfortunately, at the time, Williamson had little chance of getting his screenplay accepted. To become Hollywood material, something else had to jump-start his career.

So, then came "Scream," "I Know What You Did Last Summer," "Scream 2," "The Faculty," and others. Their success gave him not just a boost in the movie business, but a quantum leap, which has since then garnered him the appreciation needed from teenage audiences. But even the success of those movies could not prevent him from revisiting a painful, consuming past, as seen here. "Teaching Mrs. Tingle," his object of revenge, is loathsome, sickening, stale, stupid, and monumentally sophomoric. Unless Williamson moves on from this hatred, I fear we will be watching him crumble in front of our eyes before too long.

1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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