The basic plot revolves around three high school students, Leigh Ann, Luke and Jo Lynn and their attempts to get rid (literally) of their History teacher, 'Mrs Tingle', a sharp tongued and mean spirited character who is probably best compared to the Frankenfurter character in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. When she gives Leigh Ann - a usually 'straight A' student - a bad grade which deems her salutatorian, when she needs the A grade that would make her valedictorian and earn her a place in Harvard, she is given the opportunity to cheat, after class failure 'Luke' steals the final exam paper and gives it to her. Leigh Ann is caught with the paper and Tingle threatens to tell the Principal (Michael McKean) about her attempting to cheat, the result of which would have been expulsion from the school and no chance of a scholarship to Harvard. The three of them try to reason with Tingle and regain Leigh Ann's innocence and give her a chance of an 'A' grade but to no avail. After this failed attempt they assault Mrs Tingle and tie her to her bed and begin with the bribes - including threatening her with a photograph they have taken with her in bed with Luke. But will they manage to get Leigh Ann her grade? Or will the 'evil' Mrs Tingle and her sinister mind games have her way...?
This film was completely panned by critics and is yet an above average teen comedy. On its release it tried to masquerade itself as some kind of horror flick but it is essentially a black comedy/Thriller with a few tense moments. The acting is fairly mediocre, aside from Marisa Coughlan (who starred in Tom Green's dire 'Freddy Got Fingered'), who is fabulous as Jo Lynn, especially in the scene where she imitated Regan from 'The Exorcist' and Helen Mirren is brilliant as usual (check out her scornful mocking of Leigh Ann's assignment), and plays Eve Tingle with a devilish feeling. I'd love to see her as Lady Macbeth - she'd be terrifying. Katie Holmes is surprisingly quite a let down in the film (given her great performances in 'Go' and 'Wonder Boys'), giving no feeling to her character and rendering her quite unbelievable. There is also a quick, blink and you'll miss it appearance from non other than brat-pack actress 'Molly Ringwald'.
Williamson's script is fairly average and way too predictable, and nothing like as intelligent and witty as Scream or The Faculty. The direction is also pretty mediocre - but this is a minor quibble when we realise that this film is neither great nor worthy of awards, but IS a cool rainy day diversion that should keep teenagers and adults alike quite amused.
I think the reason that critics hated this film is that they took it far too seriously and had far too high expectations considering it was, I believe, Williamson's directorial debut. Granted, it's fairly run of the mill stuff, but nonetheless its 'enjoyable' run of the mill stuff and is actually very tense in some places. Another merit would be the cool and hip Dawson's Creek style soundtrack featuring songs from Sozzi and Tara Maclean.
On to things I didn't much like about the film. I thought that character development was minimal, leaving us with rather unlikeable and unbelievable characters, who because we never feel like we can associate with, distances of from them - and the film, which is never a good thing. Then there's the fact that most of the movie takes place within the confines of Mrs Tingles house, which COULD have made the movie more creepy, but instead makes it seem quite, how can I put it - cheap. Finally, I didn't much like the 'love' scene between Luke and Leigh Ann, it was slightly too long. These are probably minor quibbles and I dare say, won't harm your enjoyment of the film any.
An interesting point to make before I end my review would be that the film was shrouded in controversy and Dimension Pictures had to change its name from 'Killing Mrs Tingle', since the films release was very close to the Columbine High School massacre, when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris ran though their school spraying bullets in every direction, killing 13 people including teachers. It is hardly justified, in my eyes, to consider that a film so light-hearted and meaningless (no meant in a bad way) as this is could be affecting after the Columbine tragedy as the storyline has little to do with the actual killing of the teacher, it is more to do with the bribery and mind games. The name change though is perhaps appropriate and, to be honest 'Teaching Mrs Tingle' sounds loads better than 'Killing Mrs Tingle' anyway, and links in with the whole teacher aspect of the story more.
Anyways, on to the features of the DVD, of which I'm afraid there are sadly, very few. Alright, alright - there are actually NO special features besides run of the mill subtitles and chapter selection (I think), but I still recommend that you buy the DVD version of this film as the sound and picture quality are excellent and it is quite a rare title so would be a good addition to any collection. I say, buy this DVD and hope to god that they bring out the superior version from the US some time soon.
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