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Movie Review

As a teacher, Mrs. Tingle is striking (fear into the hearts of students who can do no right by her, that is). As a colleague, she's dedicated (to driving her fellow faculty members to drink). And when she catches young Leigh Ann, Luke and Jo Lynn with a copy of a history exam she has yet to administer, the malicious, hypercritical Mrs. Tingle is fit to be tied (to her own bedposts until the teens can figure out a way to keep her from ruining their lives). It all happens so fast. One minute, the three friends are standing on the woman's porch, trying to reason with the tenured harpy. The next, they're bandaging a head wound caused by a crossbow and carrying Tingle's unconscious body up a flight of stairs. They struggle to devise a plan. Blackmail? Murder? One thing's for sure; if Tingle blows the whistle on them, not only will the innocent Leigh Ann not edge out a snooty rival for valedictorian, but she'll be expelled and sentenced to her mother's small-town fate of waiting tables for a living. Even bound and gagged, Tingle does everything she can to break their spirits before getting free and turning their plans inside out. But, in the end, the kids triumph (was there ever any doubt?) and manage to avoid any consequences for their behavior.

Positive Elements: Leigh Ann's mother is sensitive, supportive and hard-working. She wants to see Leigh Ann fulfill her collegiate dreams and live a happy life. Leigh Ann criticizes Luke for his drinking (his father's alcoholism is referred to negatively) and talks him out of torching Tingle's house with the teacher in it. Later, after subduing Tingle and tying her wrists to the headboard, the students give their captive food and drink, treating her with a degree of respect. Leigh Ann has a bout of conscience, feeling badly for a decent woman who will be devastated if they hatch a particular scheme to blackmail Tingle. Young audiences are schooled in the correct and incorrect applications of the word "ironically."

Spiritual Content: Leigh Ann creates a weathered journal based on the diary of a girl burned at the stake for witchcraft. A deeply religious woman (and member of the church choir) is shown reading the Bible. Sadly, viewers know that this character's husband has been having an ongoing affair with Mrs. Tingle. Poised to compromise her ethics, Leigh Ann says, "I'm gonna burn in hell for this." Luke's response is, "It's gonna be a party."

Crude or Profane Language: Numerous s-words and references to Tingle as a b--ch. Other profanities notwithstanding, the most egregious is blurted by Luke who gets in Tingle's face with an "F--- you, lady!"

Sexual Content: After mocking Leigh Ann for her virginity, Jo Lynn tells her friend to follow the little voice inside that tells us to do impulsive things. Later, Leigh Ann heeds that advice and throws herself at Luke, tearing off her clothes as well as his. Sex is implied as the two are shown the next morning wearing nothing but a blanket. Luke volunteers to get naked and pose in bed beside Mrs. Tingle for photos to be used to blackmail her. He doesn't have to when they learn that the school's married athletic coach is having an affair with their sinister instructor (they get him drunk and put him in bed with her instead). When Luke sees Leigh Ann and Jo Lynn sharing an innocent hug, he suggestively asks if they'd like to make it a "three-way." Also, scattered references to sexual situations, including bondage.

Violent Content: Cat-fights between Tingle and the girls involve clawing and choking. People are threatened with a crossbow. Luke suggests burning up the teacher in a house fire. A final confrontation including a fall down a spiral staircase draws blood from both Tingle and Leigh Ann.

Drug and Alcohol Content: Luke offers the girls beer (in the school gymnasium, no less) and later asks for wine to help him overcome some inhibitions. Tingle mocks Luke for being the son of an alcoholic, and travelling that same path himself. The teens play the football coach for a fool, getting him drunk on wine.

Other Negative Elements: Alone with Tingle, Jo Lynn comments, "I can't believe you don't have a TV. It's like not having toilet paper!" She proceeds to sing the praises of daytime talk television and reenact a twisted scene from The Exorcist. Leigh Ann lies to her mom (if only to spare her feelings) and gives in to pressure to edit Tingle's stolen grade book. At first she is reluctant to alter her grade, saying, "It's not right." To which Luke replies, "What's right anymore?"

Summary: Teaching Mrs. Tingle is less about three students pursuing justice than it is an outlet for Williamson an eternal adolescent to expunge personal demons. He reportedly based the title character on an unsupportive teacher who once told him he wouldn't amount to anything, and takes delight in having a cast of teens torture her vicariously onscreen. But this vengeful vindication is extremely irresponsible and mean spirited. It's a 14-year-old's angst-riddled fantasy. Of course, I expected as much from the man behind The Faculty, TV's Dawson's Creek and the slasher films Scream, Scream 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer. What disappointed me most was to see Barry Watson of the wholesome WB drama 7th Heaven prostitute himself as the most morally bankrupt character in this disturbing film. His involvement is sure to attract some unsuspecting young 7th Heaven fans, much to their parents' dismay. By the way, this film's title was changed from Killing Mrs. Tingle shortly after the Littleton, Colo., shootings. If Disney had truly wanted to stave off potential copycat incidents, they would have shelved the project altogether. No matter what you call it, Tingle's shameless themes of amoral teen empowerment still send dangerous messages. Grade: F.

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Helen Mirren as Mrs. Tingle; Katie Holmes as Leigh Ann Watson; Barry Watson as Luke Churner; Marisa Coughlan as Jo Lynn Jordan; also featuring Jeffrey Tambor, Molly Ringwald, Michael McKean and Vivica A. Fox


Kevin Williamson ( )


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Bob Smithouser

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