Rating: 2 stars out of 5
One-third comedy, one-third propaganda and one-third training video, Jack Neo's ‘Ah Boys to Men Part I’ is a bloated effort that rehashes older National Service films such as ‘Army Daze’. This S$3 million dollar film to commemorate 45 years of National Service has little originality, and some of the humour does come across as being four decades or older.
The film kicks off with a CG heavy sequence, where enemy warplanes and soldiers invade Singapore. After numerous scenes of key Singaporean tourist spots getting blown up and civilians getting shot to death, with odd touches of humour throw in, it all turns out to be a video game sequence.
The main story itself involves an impulsive brat Ken Chow, played by Joshua Tan, the son of a rich family, and his coming of age in the army, if you couldn't tell by the title. His protective mother (Irene Ang) tries to do everything she can to keep her precious son from going to the army, but of course, it all turns out to be unsuccessful.
Since the whole film is sponsored, Jack Neo tones down on his other product placement, though a certain franchise and an insurance company still get their logos splashed onscreen. If there was an Oscar for most obnoxious product placement, Neo would probably win it.
The movie makes comparisons with how the army is now and how it used to be by including nostalgia-laced sequences depicting how harsh army training was, with bizarre punishments to sadistic sergeants. Many of the scenes are recreations of army urban legends, and go on for too long.
The film's main problem is the main character Ken. His whiny character and all his attempts to get out of training, with his hatred for the army for making him breakup with his girlfriend, is tedious.
The humour is hit and miss. Some of the jokes are undoubtedly quite well done, and the entrepreneurial Lobang (Wang Weiliang) has some of the best lines in the film. Internet personality Joshua Tan's Noah Yap has potential, but his role is still relatively minor in the film.
Maxi Lim plays the stereotypical gung ho recruit who is all determined to get into Officer Cadet School. Irene Ang is superbly funny, and some of the dialect jokes and wordplay help keep the film from just turning into an instructional SAF reel.
Still, much of the humour is a rehash of past jokes. When soldiers are asked to dress up in camouflage you can figure out what's going to happen next. And of course, there's the effeminate recruit for cheap laughs.
The training sequences frequently have music that sounds like it's ripping off ‘Band of Brother’s. We know that army training is tough, but let’s keep it real, yeah?
Otherwise, there's not much new here. From difficulties with girlfriends to coming up with new ways to escape training, ‘Ah Boys to Men’ has all the subtlety of a grenade launcher, and even with Part 2 on the way, the film feels as long as BMT.