"Let's start afresh."
Xiang Yun's character mutters this line to her wayward daughter in the middle of the movie, and one can't help but feel this might be the direction writer/director Jack Neo was aiming for this film.
However, what was intended to be 'fresh' turns out to be a stale, awkward mess.
Touted as a comeback film for Neo, We Not Naughty reunites a few of his cast of I Not Stupid (2002) for a pseudo-sequel of sorts, once again mixing in social commentary of Singapore's educational system, as well as highlighting parental pressures faced by nuclear families. While the 2002 original remains as a definitive local satire that featured a biting, witty and touching storyline, this 2012 reboot showcases all of Neo's weaknesses - incoherent screenplay, amateur acting and out-of-the-blue product placements - making it almost cringe-worthy to watch.
Although the young adult actors Shawn Lee and Joshua Ang did turn in fine, natural performances as two pessimistic students studying in a lowly-ranked Polytechnic, the most puzzling casting choice have to go to Hong Kong singer/actor Daniel Chan, who plays their cheesy, over-enthusiastic teacher who tries too hard to keep the two teenagers from straying into local gangs. The only justification to include Chan would probably be to aid the film's marketability in the region, and it doesn't hurt that his latest 'comeback' album just hit the stores recently.
Neo's fondness of playing out little episodes to pass off as a feature film also sticks out like a sore thumb. Despite the well-intended attempts at tackling important social issues like cyber-bullying and irresponsible gambling at the Integrated Resorts, the dated jokes lose their impact as aimless touch-and-go fillers. When you have a story that jumps from a drugs-trafficking scenario to a bizarre childbirth scene in the woods, you know you are in for a head-scratching ride.
One can argue that the film tries to offer something for everyone - We Not Naughty will undoubtedly find a market among its intended audience locally, as well as across the Causeway - but for some of us, it certainly isn't a crowd-pleasing one.