Adorable, towheaded twins, Dylan and Cole Sprouse starred alongside each other, first sharing roles in Grace Under Fire, Friends and Big Daddy, then playing brothers on the kids show The Suite Life of Zack and Cody. But as they grew, their career paths grew apart. Cole dyed his blonde hair black, and let his sun-kissed skin be slathered in pale make-up to play the angst-ridden Jughead Jones of TV’s Riverdale. For his part, Dylan took a 6-year break from performing and founded a meadery in Brooklyn. But in 2017, he found his way back to acting with a creepy teen thriller of his own, Dismissed, which is now on Netflix.
The feature debut of director Benjamin Arfmann, Dismissed plays out like the Alicia Silverstone movie The Crush, except instead of the student’s murderous obsession with a teacher being over her lusty attraction to him, it’s over grades. Sprouse stars as straight-A student Lucas Ward, who carries a briefcase, loves vocabulary words, and has a fanatical devotion to getting into Harvard. Focused and passionate, he initially seems a blessing to Mr. Butler’s classroom. But things sour fast when this honor student gets a B+.
Brian McAuley’s script has some dark fun imagining scenarios for Lucas’s twisted revenge. A chemistry class mishap blinds his chess team rival. Arson and assault quickly lead to extortion and murder. And there’s a twisted enjoyment watching the handsome and strapping Sprouse ooze with concentrated malice as he talks back to the flustered teacher. But things escalate so quickly that Dismissed turns stupid. See, Mr. Butler is the only one who suspects Lucas of evil doings. Yet, even he wildly underestimates his vicious nemesis. After he researches Lucas’s past and uncovers proof that this kid will ruin lives to get good grades, Butler—who has a wife and child to think about—decides he’s going to stand up to this teen psycho by giving him an F on his midterm.
Look, on a simple “how grades work” level this makes no sense and could get Butler reprimanded or fired. But beyond that, at this point, he knows Lucas is dangerous, and then blindly provokes him without considering the painfully obvious consequences. It’s hard to care much about what happens from here because everyone in the movie behaves as if they have the intelligence of a freshly unearthed potato. The suspense is spoiled, and Sprouse’s chilling performance is wasted in an overlong and senseless finale that ends with a fizzle instead of a bang.
Despite this clunker of a third act, there’s some dark fun to be found here. At least enough that you might start wishing for Riverdale to turn up Jughead’s evil twin.