Celebrated SCREAM scribe Kevin Williamson pulls double duty as writer and, for first time, director with this black comedy that's neither very dark nor particularly funny. All high-school senior Leigh Ann Watson (Katie Holmes) needs to become valedictorian of
Grandsboro High and win the scholarship she desperately needs to pay for college is an A on her history project. Standing firmly in her way, however, is Leigh Ann's venomous history teacher Mrs. Tingle (Helen Mirren), a smartly suited viper who would much rather shatter the self-esteem of her
students with a cutting remark and a reptilian smile than nurture their minds. When Mrs. Tingle catches Leigh Ann with a copy of the final history exam slipped into her back-pack by bad-boy Luke (Barry Watson) she threatens to expose Leigh Ann as a cheat. That night, Luke, Leigh Ann
and best friend Jo Lynn (Marisa Coughlan) pay a call on Mrs. Tingle in hopes of straightening it all out. But one bad thing leads to another, and soon wicked Mrs. Tingle is knocked unconscious and tied to her bedposts, held hostage until her accidental kidnappers can figure out what to do next.
Williamson seems at a similar loss, and that's a shame: This one should have been fun. Mirren sinks her teeth into Williamson's biting dialogue, newcomer Coughlan oozes charm Molly Ringwald even puts in an appearance. But the tone is off, and beyond the set-up, it's woefully underdeveloped.
(The screenplay, it turns out, dates back to Williamson's own school days at UCLA, and was his very first.) Mrs. Tingle herself is so relentlessly malignant that she fails to register as anything more than a one-dimensional force of pure evil, a demon that needs to be destroyed in the name of all
that is decent. What Mrs. Tingle really needs is a rope of garlic and a sharp stake to the heart.
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