Strays review: a one-trick dog comedy

Strays review: a one-trick dog comedy 1
Reggie, Maggie, Hunter, and Bug all stand on the street together in Strays.

“Strays is a sporadically funny, but frustratingly one-note R-rated comedy.”

Pros

  • Exceptionally well-cast vocal performances

  • Several laugh-out-loud moments

Cons

  • Numerous gross-out moments that land with a thud

  • A second act that drags

  • A one-note, raunchy sense of humor

With Strayswhat you see is what you get. The film’s trailers have sold it as an R-rated comedy about a bunch of foul-mouthed dogs who decide to try and get revenge on a nasty previous owner. It is, for better or worse, exactly that. Directed by Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar director Josh Greenbaum and produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, Strays is a raunchy comedy that tries to mine as much as it possibly can from the mere idea that dogs’ inner thoughts might not be nearly as sanitized as humans like to think.

If that sounds like a small resource for a 95-minute comedy to try and sustain itself on, that’s because it is. Strays is, in many ways, the same few jokes repeated over and over again for an hour-and-a-half. In certain instances, it works as a perfectly enjoyable, admirably vulgar studio comedy, bhe cumulative effect of the film could better be described as mildly irritating rather than laugh-out-loud funny. Ultimately, the movie is a minor, forgettable effort for all involved, including its selection of well-cast voice actors.

Bug, Hunter, Maggie, and Reggie walk side-by-side together in Strays.
Universal Pictures

Strays doesn’t waste any time setting up its story. In its thankfully succinct prologue, the film introduces viewers to Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell), a scrappy young dog who is blindly in love with his abusive, self-involved owner, Doug (Will Forte). When Doug, who spends more time getting high and complaining about his life than he does taking care of Reggie, realizes that he’s on the verge of being evicted, he decides to rid himself of his dog owner responsibilities once and for all. In order to do so, he gets into the habit of driving Reggie miles away from his house and throwing a tennis ball into the distance in the hope that he’ll be able to leave his dog completely stranded.

One day, Doug succeeds when he drops Reggie off in a city hours away from their home. Reggie, still as innocent as ever, quickly strikes up a friendship with one of the city’s other stray dogs, Bug (voiced by Jamie Foxx), whose bad attitude, but undying loyalty makes him an ideal companion for Ferrell’s naive pup. As Bug tries to explain what stray life can be like to Reggie, he introduces him to two of his closest friends: a therapy dog named Hunter (voiced by Randall Park) and Maggie (voiced by Isla Fisher), the frustrated first dog of a social media-obsessed influencer.

While Bug, Hunter, and Maggie succeed in making Reggie feel welcome in their city, they aren’t as successful in getting his former owner out of his mind. On the contrary, he decides he needs to find his way back to Doug so that he can violently repay him for all the abuse that was unloaded on him over the years. When Maggie, Hunter, and Bug subsequently agree to accompany him on his mission, they unexpectedly set out on a journey filled with more outlandish moments, bathroom jokes, and twists of fate than even the most prepared viewer will likely see coming. Unfortunately, not all of Strays’ second-act gags work as well as the few that do.

Reggie looks at Doug through a truck window in Strays.
Universal Pictures

The film’s most successful jokes include a subversive reference to the Josh Gad-starring A Dog’s Purpose movies from 2017 and 2019, which present a far sweeter version of a canine’s everyday life than Strays. The reference in question comes near the film’s midpoint and it takes a turn that not only comes out of nowhere, but packs a greater sustained punch than nearly every other joke that Strays has to offer. The film’s other noteworthy highlight, meanwhile, is an acid trip sequence that’s easily Strays‘ most experimental and visually ambitious — and it pays off in a way that is both fittingly mean-spirited and genuinely funny.

One of the reasons why Strays’ hallucinatory drug trip sequence lands as well as it does is that it’s one of the few moments in the film where Greenbaum seems genuinely comfortable with changing up its otherwise flat visual language. For most of its runtime, Strays is forced by the very nature of its story to adopt as low-key a visual style as possible, one that allows Greenbaum and company to constantly highlight the surprisingly expressive faces of its four canine leads. That problem, while largely unavoidable, just makes Strays’ slowest sections all the more noticeable.

Maggie, Reggie, Bug, and Hunter stand outside at night together in Strays.
Universal Pictures

Despite its relatively short runtime, there are stretches throughout Strays’ second and third acts that drag, usually as a direct result of the film’s one-note sense of humor. Its few highlights and admirable creative swings aside, Strays fails to find consistently new and satisfying ways to mine comedy out of its paper-thin premise. In order to try and make up for that fact, the movie relies on the kind of poop and pee jokes that are both painfully obvious and ineffective. Strays is, therefore, exactly the film that you likely think it is.

If you found its premise and trailers intriguing, the odds are high that you’ll likely have a good time with Strays. If you didn’t, then you definitely won’t. There’s nothing deeper hiding beneath the surface of Straysnor are there enough clever twists on its story to make it anything more than one of this year’s most forgettable studio comedies to date.

Strays is now playing in theaters.

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