An Emmy Award winner for her portrayal of a steely chief inspector on the PBS series "Prime Suspect," Helen Mirren has mastered such demanding stage roles as Ophelia, Cressida and Lady Macbeth and won an Oscar nomination for her work in "The Madness of King George." The latest jewel in her crown: "Teaching Mrs. Tingle."

Mirren, however inexplicably, lends her credentials to this crude and sluggish teen satire about a malevolent history teacher who learns a lesson in nice from a trio of high school seniors. Mirren, who last played Cleopatra to Alan Rickman's Antony on the London stage, goes mano a mano here with "Dawson's Creek's" Katie Holmes. The teen soap star plays Leigh Ann Watson, a diligent student who needs an "A" in history to get a college scholarship, which she sees as her only ticket out of town.

Mrs. Tingle revels in tormenting her students, belittling their efforts and giving them bad grades. But the horrible harridan has extra-special plans for Leigh Ann, whose waitress mother (Lesley Ann Warren) appears to have once been Tingle's romantic rival. In an effort to destroy the young scholar's future, Tingle falsely accuses Leigh Ann and two classmates of stealing a copy of her final exam.

When Leigh Ann, her friend Jo Lynn (Marisa Coughlan) and the hunky Luke (Barry Watson) knock at Tingle's door and try to reason with her, the wretched woman laughs in their earnest little faces. Ha! Ha! Ha! Luke, whose manhood is one of Tingle's favorite targets, threatens her with a crossbow, and before you can say "I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too," they've tied Tingle to the posts of her Victorian bed. Psychological games between Tingle and her captors ensue.

Kevin Williamson, the author of "Scream," "The Faculty" and "I Know What You Did Last Summer," makes his directorial debut with this witless, not to mention ill-advised, lesson in vengeance. Originally titled "Killing Mrs. Tingle," the picture underwent the name change after the murders at Columbine High School. Nobody gets killed, mind you, though those at risk might die of boredom.

Teaching Mrs. Tingle (98 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for profanity, brief violence and sex.

CAPTION: Poisoned apple: Helen Mirren as the teacher from Hell and Katie Holmes as her student victim.

CAPTION: Marisa Coughlan and Katie Holmes in "Teaching Mrs. Tingle."