Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Katie Holmes embarks on a Death Wish rampage in the vile Miss Meadows

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At once morally repugnant and nauseatingly cutesy-poo, the “vigilante comedy” Miss Meadows stars Katie Holmes as the title character, a substitute teacher whose primary hobby is gunning down miscreants. Dancing down suburban streets in tap shoes, she waits to be accosted by some would-be rapist or serial killer, then pulls a small-caliber pistol from her clutch and blows him away. Fortunately, the sheriff (James Badge Dale) in charge of investigating this series of Death Wish-style slayings is head over heels in love with Miss Meadows, and isn’t shaken by the gradual realization that his fiancée is responsible for all the corpses stacked up in the city morgue. He does insist that she has to stop, lest somebody else eventually catch her, but she can’t quite solemnly promise to do so. “I’ll try” is the best she can manage.

It would take a ruthless social satirist of the first order to make this concept work. Miss Meadows, however, was written and directed by Karen Leigh Hopkins, whose previous screenwriting credits include such take-no-prisoners fare as Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael and Stepmom. She directs Holmes to play Miss Meadows as a perky automaton, more Stepford wife than crazed avenger, and seems to imagine that the disjunction between a chipper personality and bloody murder will fuel an entire movie. (John Waters made the same mistake with Serial Mom, but he at least had real tastelessness working for him.) She also creates an explanatory backstory for Miss Meadows, revealing it a bit at a time via repeated flashbacks to the character’s childhood, when something traumatic apparently happened at a wedding. There’s a twist involved here (requiring considerable cheating), but it’s of the smack-your-head variety.

All of that is mere hack work, though. What makes Miss Meadows egregiously awful is that it has no perspective whatsoever on vigilante justice. As an ostensible work of satire, it lacks bite, never truly questioning or complicating its heroine’s actions; the film isn’t even outrageous enough to be appalling (which paradoxically makes it appalling). In fact, virtually every murder we see Miss Meadows commit would qualify as legitimate self-defense, though it’s unclear whether she’s carrying her gun legally. For one brief moment, it does appears as if Hopkins has something genuinely provocative in mind: Miss Meadows visits a convicted child molester (Callan Mulvey) who’s just moved into the neighborhood, in order to threaten him, and there’s a welcome suggestion that she’s much more screwed up and dangerous than he is. A few scenes later, though, he’s abducted a cute little girl and is revealed as thoroughly deserving of street justice, which is the only kind that seems to exist in this sour, intellectually irresponsible fantasia.