‘Strays’: a filthy, crusty talking-dog comedy wrapped around a warm, chewy center
Strays is about as filthy a comedy as you’re going to see. It pours out gallons of shit, piss, jizz, barf, and anything else a dog can excrete. The characters get drunk and do drugs, and they are dogs. There are gratuitous jokes about serial killers and anal rape. Every other word out of the dogs’s mouths is “fuck,” and the dogs do most of the talking. But the people who talk are just as scatological. It’s pretty funny at points, really stupid at others, and surprisingly sentimental.
Will Ferrell does the voice of Reggie, a ratty little terrier who lives with Doug, a stoned, horny, mean loser who sponges off his mom to allow him to live in a beaten-down old small-town house. He drives a crummy truck, has no job, and yet somehow has two hot girlfriends. Doug treats Reggie like garbage, and for cruel plot reasons eventually ends up abandoning Reggie in the alley of a big city that is a cross between Atlanta and Chicago but is also Los Angeles.
STRAYS ★★★ (3/5 stars)
Directed by: Josh Greenbaum
Written by: Dan Perrault
Starring: Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Isla Fisher, Randall Park, Will Forte
Running time: 93 mins
A hard-R Homeward Bound scenario ensues as Reggie hooks up with Bug, a street-smart Boston Terrier voiced by Jamie Foxx. Together, Bug (and his tragic backstory) and Reggie are the ‘Strays’ of the title. For reasons that make no sense, Bug is friends with two dogs who have owners: Maggie (Isla Fisher), a well-groomed competent Australian shepherd who is an Instagram prop for an influencer idiot, and Hunter (Randall Park), a Great Dane with a huge schlong who was once a police dog but now is an emotional-support animal at a nursing home. He wears a cone of shame around his neck for various reasons, but mostly because he has low self-esteem.
Reggie is desperate to get back to Doug, who he loves even though Doug is the worst person on the planet. Gradually, Reggie’s new friends persuade him that Doug is an evil asshole, so Reggie determines he wants to “bite his dick off.”
That is the movie. Four weird dogs go on a quest to bite off a man’s penis. Your interest will vary.
The best stuff in Strays doesn’t actually involve the copious quantities of crap the dogs exude. The nasty stuff doesn’t always hit, though an extended scene involving Hunter’s enormous rod after Animal Control catches our heroes does have a funny and ironic payoff. I preferred the throwaway dog humor, like the fact that no one can finish a knock-knock joke around the dogs because they keep barking whenever they hear the word “knock knock,” or the fact that Hunter is a bad howler, saying “I’m howwwwwling” instead of actually howling. Those were the most clever takeaways. We get it, dogs pee on things and sniff each other’s butts. That stuff gets old.
Strays is hampered by a surprisingly flat vocal performance from Will Ferrell as Reggie, who is sweet and gee-whiz, but never particularly funny. Foxx brings a kind of manic Chris Tucker energy to Bug, but Fisher and Park, in the secondary roles, are actually funnier, and their subplot character arcs give Strays just enough narrative momentum to get us to the inevitable climactic showdown with Doug. Forte is the nastiest villain in a comedy in a long time, but Doug is so terrible, so stereotypically irredeemable, that the climax, so to speak, doesn’t land as hard as it should.
But between the cushions of its couch-humping jokes, Strays has at least a vaguely moral center, somewhat like Guardians of the Galaxy 3, which came out earlier this summer. The movie, for all its juvenile “what if we actually showed Lady and the Tramp doing it” energy, is strongly against animal abuse. For all that we say we love dogs, many of us don’t treat them as well as we should. They love us unconditionally, and they deserve our love back, even when they crap on the rug. That’s certainly the case with the Boston Terriers my wife and I live with. They have pillows to lay on in every room in the house, and let me tell you, they never stop humping. We all need to embrace that hard-R dog life.