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IN SHORT: Teen dateflick. Not Scream-type horror but fairly enjoyable. [Rated [PG-13], 93 minutes]
Cranky has found himself making references to his film school screenwriting teacher in several of the reviews he's composed this week. So, since it's appropriate to the subject at hand, let us now recall our first efforts at screenplay writing, the stuff we hold near and dear to our hearts. A television producer friend, under the guise of making the move to the big screen, exercised his energy on a bad story that exorcized the demons of his divorce and the painful process of returning to dating hell as a nigh on middle aged guy. Cranky spent four years novelizing the events of the accident that created him (an easier read on the history pages). Kevin Williamson took aim at a teacher he once had who advised the future creator of Scream and Dawson's Creek that he had no foreseeable future as a writer. It is that first, and previously unproduced, effort that Williamson has resurrected as his directorial debut, Teaching Mrs. Tingle. For some reason, the humiliated student in the movie is female. We'll chalk that up to "keeping a distance from the subject".
The pre-release Internet buzz on this one was so bad, it was hard to lock out. The teenboys over at AICN are way off the mark in their disses about Teaching Mrs. Tingle for the very simple reason (I'm guessing here) that they were expecting another Scream or I Know What You Did Last Summer or The Faculty, in short, Williamson's usual thriller and/or scareflick. Teaching Mrs. Tingle is a different animal. It is a psychological battle between teacher and student, less about criminal acts and more about mental control. It is not a bad flick.
Leigh Ann Watson (Katie Holmes) comes from a single-mom-with-two-jobs household (Lesley Ann Warren plays mom). Leigh's a great student, she needs to land the valedictory position to get a college scholarship. In her way is Trudy (Liz Stauber), a rich kid and history teacher Mrs. Tingle (Helen Mirren), a mean, nasty, tight assed witch of a teacher who scares, humiliates and gently blackmails students and school administrators with verve and skill. Rounding off the principal cast are Leigh's best friend Jo Lynn (Marisa Coughlan), who has the hots for second generation slacker Luke (Barry Watson). Luke prefers Leigh but had his chance, blew it, and knows it. Thinking it would help Leigh land the number one slot, Luke gets his hands on a copy of Tingle's final exam and offers it to Leigh and Jo Lynn. Leigh turns it down, but Tingle catches 'em in the act. Drop the curtain. Close the show. Leigh's life is over.
That night, the three go to Tingle's house to plead their case; to convince Tingle that Leigh is as innocent as the Salem Witch profiled in her final report. Tingle won't hear any of it, but Luke magically produces a crossbow and Tingle is bound to a bed until the kidlets can figure out what to do.
Talk about tight . . . Tied to the bed for a day the old lady never has to go to the bathroom. That's control!
And that's really all I need to tell you. From this point on the film pits Tingle versus Leigh versus Jo Lynn as the teacher spins verbal spider webs around her inexperienced students. This is also where the supporting actors add little comic nuggets to the story: Molly Ringwald (and can you think of anyone better to be cast in a high school flick?) as the substitute who covers Tingle's classes; Vivica A. Fox as the sympathetic guidance counselor; Michael McKean as the principal and Jeffrey Tambor as the Coach, whose secret is so titillating that the kidlets at the screening I attended were guffawing.
For his first time in the director's chair Williamson does a good job. There were a couple of visual continuity errors I caught and I'd have to take another look to see if that crossbow really did "magically" appear but, all in all, this was a good popcorn flick. The kidlets were happy and they're the ones buying the tickets to this one.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Teaching Mrs. Tingle, he would have paid...
Rental for this old fogey. $5 dateflick level for the teens.
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