Teaching Mrs. Tingle [1999]

The poster for Teaching Mrs. Tingle may feature young TV cuties Katie Holmes (Dawson's Creek), Marisa Coughlin (Wasteland), and Barry Watson (Seventh Heaven), but the real star is the actress playing the title character: Helen Mirren. Mirren plays a bitter, tyrannical teacher who, due to circumstantial evidence, believes goody two-shoes Holmes is guilty of cheating on her history final. Holmes, Coughlin, and Watson go to Mirren's home to convince her that there's been a misunderstanding, but Mirren refuses to listen. Terrified that this will ruin her chances to go to college, Holmes and her compatriots knock Mirren out and tie her to her bed. Unfortunately, they haven't any idea what to do next; when Mirren awakes, the situation becomes a battle of wits in which the teenagers are hopelessly outmatched. Coughlin and Watson are pretty to look at and Holmes has some genuine talent and a lot of charm, but Mirren--who's played Shakespeare on the stage and been in movies ranging from lurid and trashy (Caligula) to eerie and arty (The Comfort of Strangers) to lurid, trashy, eerie, and arty (The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover)--combines the cutting intelligence of Vanessa Redgrave, the steely will of Judi Dench, and a sensual energy that any young starlet would kill for. For fans of the British TV series Prime Suspect, in which Mirren plays the tough yet vulnerable Inspector Tennyson, this teen comedy-thriller is just an amusing footnote in Mirren's career; but if you've never been transfixed by this actress's mischievous sidelong glances, Teaching Mrs. Tingle might provide a good start. --Bret Fetzer

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