The Pitch: Reggie (Will Ferrell) is a scruffy, pure-hearted Border Terrier who is convinced that every day is “the best day ever.” He lives with his owner, Doug (Will Forte), who is downright awful — Doug constantly neglects and abuses Reggie, spends his time smoking weed and touching himself, and is constantly telling Reggie he’s a “bad dog.” Reggie’s name isn’t actually Reggie; according to Doug, it’s “Shit Bag.”
So, Doug finally drops Reggie off in the heart of the big city, leaving the dog to fend for himself and live as a stray for the first time. Despite Doug’s many cruel acts, Reggie still longs to be with him — until he meets his future best friend, Bug (Jamie Foxx), a stray Boston Terrier with a slightly chaotic persona and an insistence on stray dogs being able to do whatever they want.
Bug introduces Reggie to his non-stray friends, Australian Shepherd Maggie (Isla Fisher) and Great Dane Hunter (Randall Park), and the quartet agrees that humans = bad and dogs = great. This lights a fire under Reggie, who vows to find Doug to destroy his favorite thing in the world: his dick. With his new canine friends by his side, Reggie treks back into the wilderness to get revenge on his owner by, yes, biting off his dick.
Written by Dan Perrault (co-creator of the criminally underrated American Vandal) and directed by Josh Greenbaum (Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar), Strays is both a raunchy adult comedy and a love letter to our furry friends. All the while, the film’s tone is deeply ridiculous, especially with the heaps of CGI needed to help these dogs look like they’re really talking and the generally unhinged jokes that appear in droves.
Canine Comedy: Strays is a movie where dogs talk — funny, right? While the film tends to cram in as many brazen jokes as they can, the most delightful jokes are the ones that acknowledge how our dogs are weird little guys. The dog rule of “if you pee on something, it belongs to you” is recycled a few times, they poke fun at how dogs have to do that cute little turn before they sleep, and they lean pretty hard into the fact that dogs like to hump things.
Strays also works when it highlights the way our dogs supposedly see the world. But don’t be entirely fooled by this wholesome premise — Strays is much farther from the saccharine tone of, say, the “Thoughts of Dog” Twitter account and much closer to canine-centric jokes found in Family Guy. There’s a joke about how humans are seemingly “obsessed” with dog poop (because they’re always picking it up and bagging it) — Bug’s conspiracy theory is that they’re using it to make chocolate, and that’s why dogs can’t have it. The dogs also consider the mailman to be the devil incarnate, and they treat fireworks like they’ve been thrust into the middle of a World War 1 battle scene, which is genuinely funny.
Another big theme of not just Strays, but all dog movies, is the idea that dogs have undying loyalty towards their humans. Strays attempts to question this idea, and highlights how selfish dog owners can be. In fact, Strays can often feel like a direct parody of films like A Dog’s Purpose, complete with an utterly hilarious cameo or two nodding at that genre.
The Verdict: Strays has a surprisingly large joke density, and quite a few of them land in an unexpected way. Some quips, like the aforementioned canine ones, are easy targets; others, like the film’s climactic sequence being expertly soundtracked to Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball,” are surprisingly novel, rewarding choices. There are lots of callbacks too, and they’re generally well-timed — even if the joke is as absurd as Reggie making a garden gnome his “son,” which, well, we won’t explain any further.
Furthermore, the filmmakers definitely nailed the voice cast. Will Ferrell’s giddy, adult-child persona translates to Reggie perfectly, Jamie Foxx brings an appropriate amount of chaos to Bug, Isla Fisher is almost always a secret weapon in comedies, and Randall Park makes the enormous Hunter a true gentle giant. One of the more enjoyable bits comes whenever the four decide to howl in unison, but Hunter proclaims he’s bad at howling… so each time, you can literally hear Randall Park in the V.O. booth just going “Howwwwwlingggg.”
Good bits aside, the screenplay features some comedic tropes that aren’t really needed, like the dogs going on a crazy psychedelic mushroom bender after eating them in the woods (which feels like someone pitched the idea of “wouldn’t it be so funny if the dogs got high!” and then they ran with it). Furthermore, the primary driving point of the film being “this dog is gonna go find his owner so he can bite his dick off” is so overtly silly and crass that it will likely illicit more of a shrug than a laugh.
Despite some of the film’s inherent foolishness and the occasionally coarse joke, Strays is actually a pretty fun ride. Some 90-minute comedies drag because they’re so pointless that it’s hard to enjoy, and some, like Game Night, for example, are packed with so many great jokes that those 90 minutes fly by. Strays is somewhere in the middle, breezy but occasionally bizarre, unhinged while still being cheeky and fun. And when it’s done, if you have a dog, you’ll probably want to give them a big ‘ol hug.
Where to Watch: Strays trots into theaters everywhere on August 18th.