By Chris Michaud
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Do not mess with Miss Meadows, the tap dancing elementary school teacher played by actress Katie Holmes in the new film of the same name that has premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival.
She is a dainty sprite, bordering on fey in the mold of French film heroine "Amelie." But she also has some serious issues.
Decked out in frilly ankle socks and flowery dresses, she is armed and just a little bit trigger happy, especially when would-be rapists or child molesters enter her sights.
She tends to punctuate meet-ups with a decidedly non-ironic "toodle-loo," and as described by one of the cops on her trail in "Miss Meadows" is a "pulp fiction Mary Poppins."
But her mission to clear the streets of bad people is complicated when she falls for a local sheriff, played by James Badge Dale ("World War Z," and "Parkland.")
"I'm a fan of strong women, and I like seeing them on screen," Holmes said of the vigilante heroine she portrays in the film.
"I liked her spirit," Holmes added. "She was delightful and believed in what she was doing and the integrity of her mind."
The vigilante satire co-stars three-time Emmy-award winner Jean Smart ("Samantha Who?" and "Frasier") and Mary Kay Place, who also won an Emmy for comedy series "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman."
Written and directed by first-time filmmaker Karen Leigh Hopkins, the long gestation of "Miss Meadows" began with the 1993 abduction and murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas, who was snatched from her bedroom in Petaluma, California, during a slumber party.
Hopkins recalled a reporter at the time saying the killer deserved compassion, having himself been abused as a child.
"I always thought of myself as a fairly liberal person," Hopkins said after the film's premiere. "But at that moment I thought, 'We've lost our marbles.' And at that moment, 'Miss Meadows' came into my head."
"That was 14 years ago," Hopkins added.
The film was shot on location in and around Cleveland, Ohio, in just under three weeks, and according to Hopkins, getting Holmes, known for her roles in "The Ice Storm" and "Batman Begins," to play the title role helped.
"It was a phenomenal gift," Hopkins said.
Holmes, whose marriage to Tom Cruise ended in 2012, has completed two films since "Miss Meadows," and is shooting an untitled movie in which she plays a New York socialite.
By all accounts the character took on an added dimension when Holmes signed on, imparting the killer with an ethereal, whimsical quality.
"Katie brought an entirely new level to Miss Meadows," Hopkins said, including much of the humor.
The director also appreciated her ability to improvise, noting that the actress did not hesitate to rework a line of dialogue because she felt it was wrong for the character.
Holmes evinced a shading of Miss Meadows, adding: "I think I always said 'Please.'"
(Reporting by Chris Michaud, editing by Patricia Reaney and G Crosse)