The R-rated comedy is no longer what it once was. It hasn’t deteriorated in quality, as recent films like No Hard Feelings and Joy Ride have shown, but the days of comedies like Ted, 21 Jump Street, and Bridesmaids topping the box office are long gone. That is why a film like Strays seems so intriguing. Following in the footsteps of Sausage Party, Good Boys, and The Happytime Murders, the new comedy takes something that appears kid-friendly on the surface and transforms it into something darker and R-rated.
Include the creators of Barb & Star. Go to Vista del Mar, American Vandal, and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, and you’ve got yourself a possible winner with an adorable canine cast voiced by A-list talent.
Strays features Reggie (Will Ferrell), a naive two-year-old Border Terrier who is abandoned by his harsh and selfish owner Doug (Will Forte), who blames the helpless dog for his girlfriend’s abandonment. Reggie isn’t alone for long, as he immediately befriends the feisty and street-savvy Boston Terrier Bug (Jamie Foxx), who teaches him the ins and outs of being a stray. Bug also introduces Reggie to two “non” strays: Maggie (Isla Fisher), an Australian Shepard whose young owner has started ignoring her in favour of a new puppy, and Hunter (Randall Park), a nervous and awkward therapy dog who wears a cone.
Reggie, who initially denies Doug’s harsh and negligent behaviour, is soon persuaded and seeks vengeance on his former master. He wants it specifically by “biting his dick off.” Throughout their adventure, the four dogs encounter fireworks, mushrooms, dangerous birds, lost girls, faeces, and a sympathetic dogcatcher (Brett Gelman), all while their ideas on the world change.
If you’ve watched the trailer for Strays, you should have a good idea of what to anticipate. It’s 90 minutes of talking dogs swearing, making sex jokes, pooping, and getting into mischief. Much of the comedy is based on the novelty of its fuzzy four-legged characters saying the most outrageous things possible, and while it can feel unduly immature at times, it still works rather well.
Strays features a lot of the charm that director Josh Greenbaum and writers Dan Perrault brought to previous productions. They’re not aiming to force a hamfisted message into the picture or to transform it into something it’s not, and they seem quite content to remain with its crude sense of humour.
Some of the gags, such as one about one of the dog’s unusually enormous genitalia, start to wear thin at times, but as soon as the laughs start to fade, another hilarious part will play that will have you roaring with laughter. This features a hilarious spoof of A Dog’s Purpose as well as a few surprise cameos.
Even with all of its dirt, Strays boldly wears its heart on its sleeve. Themes include breaking out of a harmful relationship, developing trust, and creating your own temporary family. It manages to balance all of this without losing its sense of humour or slowing down the film.
Strays has a fast length of 93 minutes, but the purposely chaotic atmosphere makes it feel even shorter. This makes the film feel hurried and repetitious at points, as the characters take detours before returning to the same area they were at fifteen minutes before. The narrative is a little hazy, but no one is coming into this film expecting an unusual and interesting story. You’ve come to see dogs curse like sailors, and you’ll get precisely that.
If the idea of Strays wasn’t enough to sell you, the film also has a fantastic voice cast headlined by A-listers like Ferrell and Foxx. Ferrell’s voice matches Reggie’s naivety nicely; he’s playing it similarly to what he did with Buddy the Elf, but with much less of a filter. While it’s easy to cheer for an attractive dog in a movie, Ferrell doesn’t pull any punches, while portraying a more straight guy than his co-star.
Foxx’s voice brings so much life to the foul-mouthed Boston Terrier Bug, that, like Ferrell, he could have easily played the part. Instead, he goes all out and fully exploits the film’s R-rating. Fisher and Park are equally entertaining as Maggie and Hunter, who are clearly enjoying their roles.
Despite only appearing at the opening and conclusion of the picture, Forte gets a few of solid chuckles as the film’s human lead (and villain), Doug. It was a risk for Forte to take on this job because his character is supposed to make the viewer detest him right away, but he pulls it off as the porn-addicted, weed-smoking loser who values his private bits above everything else.
Strays aspires to be as nasty and disgusting as a talking dog movie can go, capitalising on its idea but never really going beyond that. Not all of the jokes hit precisely, but those that do generate some of the loudest and finest laughs you’ll have all summer at the theatre. Those who were turned off by the film’s promotion should avoid it, but those who want to channel their inner middle-schooler will have a great time with Strays.