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REVIEW: 'Strays' is foul-mouthed fun

By Mikhail Lecaros Published Sep 13, 2023 9:41 pm

Raunchy comedies have seen a resurgence of late, with the likes of No Hard Feelings and Bottoms tickling audience funny bones as much as they (intentionally) tend to offend.

A fun alternative to blockbuster cinema, Strays features a pack of lovable dogs voiced by Will Ferrell (Anchorman, Old School), Jamie Foxx (Collateral, Baby Driver), Isla Fisher (Now You See Me), and Randall Park (Ant-Man & The Wasp, The Interview). A big-hearted story of loyalty and friendship, make no mistake—the film is packed with enough profanity, sex, alcohol, and drug use, so think twice about who you see this with.  

Reggie (Ferrell) is a Border Terrier who has no idea that his good-for-nothing master, Doug (Will Forte, MacGruber) actually hates him. When Doug abandons Reggie in a city three hours away from home to be rid of him, the dog mistakes it for a game.

Everything changes when Reggie crosses paths with Bug (Foxx), a stray Boston Terrier whose distrust of humans leads to him taking the lost dog under his wing. By the time Reggie is introduced to Bug’s friends Maggie (Fisher) and Hunter (Park), his mind is made up: he’ll get his revenge on Doug by biting off the man’s favorite toy (use your imagination).

(From R-L) Bug (Jamie Foxx), Reggie (Will Ferrell), Maggie (Isla Fisher), Hunter (Randall Park) team up to teach Reggie's master (Will Forte) a lesson in Strays.

What follows is a cross-country trek that tests the pooches’ mettle, as they encounter angry birds, animal control, terrifying fireworks, and the most poop you’re likely to see onscreen this year.   

Strays is the second full feature from award-winning documentarian Josh Greenbaum (Behind the Mask, Becoming Bond), following the Kristin Wiig-starrer Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar (2021).

Shooting from a script by Dan Perrault (American Vandal), Strays is mildly amusing in its efforts to offend, but an overall lack of comedic polish prevents it from hitting the foul-mouthed highs of Sausage Party (2016) or Good Boys (2019).

Here, most of the jokes either drag on for too long or are beaten into the ground through sheer repetition. One may feel like the filmmakers were so afraid that audiences wouldn’t get their punchlines, they decided to spell them out as laboriously as possible. It’s one thing to have characters do something outrageous onscreen, but having them outright explain said actions takes the fun out of it.  

Sophomoric comedy notwithstanding, the film gets a lot right when it comes to its portrayal of different dog behaviors across different breeds, so pet owners will have much to enjoy. Sure, we get the usual stereotypes of pups hating mailmen and eating poop, but the film scores in its depiction of a canine’s unconditional love for their master. Indeed, dog lovers will find much to enjoy, as the heroes’ characterizations draw from insights and behaviors that any dog parent will immediately recognize.  

The effects used to make the characters talk are solid, and it’s always cute to see live action dogs bickering in English.

From Fisher utilizing her natural accent as Maggie, who, as an Australian Shepherd, is an expert tracker, to Park’s gentle giant of a Great Dane being the most insecure of the bunch, each of the dogs’ quirks is clearly indicative of their breeds. The fun lies in their interactions, as Hunter harbors a barely disguised crush on Maggie, which leads to a wildly inappropriate jailbreak attempt that needs to be seen to be believed.

At the same time, Will Ferrell’s Reggie serves as the film’s heart, displaying much of the same oblivious enthusiasm he had in Elf. Reggie’s exchanges with Bug make for many of the film’s (easily-avoidable) misunderstandings, with the former’s wide-eyed nature clashing with the latter’s cynical attitude. Overall, the effects used to make the characters talk are solid, and it’s always cute to see live-action dogs bickering in English. 

By the time we get to the graphic—yet intensely satisfying—finale, the titular strays will have learned that the true meaning of family isn’t peeing on each other, but how far they’re willing to go for those they care for. For all its potty humor-powered bluster, Strays proudly wears its heart on its sleeve, and in an era of computer-generated excess, a little bit of genuine sentiment is more than welcome.  

(and maybe a little less poop)