"Strays" stars Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Will Forte, Isla Fisher, and Randall Park. Releasing on August 18, 2023, the film has an abandoned dog teaming up with the other strays to get revenge on his owner.
The film is directed by Josh Greenbaum, who also directed "The Short Game", "Becoming Bond", "Too Funny to Fail", and "Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar". Dogs are adorable, even when they're small puppies. However, some specific ones prove their bark is as bad as their bite despite their cute appearances. Some will growl, some will snarl, and some might even curse if you're not careful. This latest comedy continues the trend of taking an innocent concept seen in family movies and cranking the adult meter up to a ten. They did it with "Ted" for a CGI teddy bear, "Sausage Party" regarding talking cartoon foods, and even "Good Boys" featuring kids. Now, the "talking dog" concept gets the same treatment. Do you remember the old-school family movies from the early to late 2000s that feature animals talking with their CGI mouths? You know, the thing that's delighting many kids and discomforting adults with the outdated visuals? It's like that, but you have them cuss, drink, and perform sexual acts like adults do. That's the perfect way for me to describe this adult comedy that screams the phrase, "Don't judge a book by its cover". But does this concept lead to a howling good time at the movies? Let's find out.
The story centers on Reggie (Ferrell), an ecstatic yet gullible Border Terrier living the best days with his owner, Doug (Forte). However, Reggie doesn't know that Doug is a dog-hating drug addict who never wanted him. Doug tries to get rid of Reggie, but the latter keeps sticking to him like glue. One day, Doug takes Reggie to the far reaches of the city and abandons him to fend for his life. Yeah, Doug's one of those assholes. There, Reggie meets and befriends the other strays: a street-wise Boston Terrier named Bug (Foxx), an Australian Shepherd named Maggie (Fisher), and a therapy Great Dane named Hunter (Park). The strays teach Reggie the joys of being a stray but also inform him of the dark truth about Doug's selfish intentions. This resulted in Reggie and the strays joining forces to journey back to Reggie's home and exact revenge on Doug.
I had a soft spot for films involving talking animals during my childhood, especially ones involving dogs. It was fascinating to hear what the animals were saying, thanks to the power of visual effects and all-star celebrities. However, as I grew older, I began to see the lackluster appeal of this concept, especially in recent movies targeting families. From its kid-friendly plots to the outdated CGI, most of these films are as cute as the furry characters, but they're also far from well-behaved regarding their qualities. This was proven by my experience with "Show Dogs" in 2018. Yes, I watched that cinematic dog poop, so you guys don't have to. You're welcome, by the way.
Fortunately for me, "Strays" looked more interesting than the kids film involving grooming a dog based on the marketing. It's got almost everything you'd expect from a talking dog movie, including the comical mishaps and the celebrities voicing the canines. The only difference is that it's more vulgar than the family-friendly movies with subtle risqué humor. In other words, just because it has talking dogs doesn't mean it's for kids. If you don't take that seriously, you deserve a one-way trip back to parenting school. I'm not expecting this one to be a masterpiece or anything since none of the other talking animal films are, except "Babe". However, I expected it not to land in the "so bad it's bad" category like "Show Dogs" since the trailers made it seem like a fun time for adult audiences. Thankfully, that's precisely what I got from "Strays", a simplistic yet immensely entertaining raunchy comedy about dogs uniting to bite Will Forte's wiener off.
By simplistic, I mean the film has a straightforward point-A-to-point-B plot depicting Reggie's quest to find his way home. Think of it as an R-rated version of "Homeward Bound", but instead of the dogs reuniting with their owners, they're heading home to get revenge on one. Plus, the canines communicate with their mouths in this film instead of using telepathy like in the Disney film. So if you're hoping for this to become the next adult comedy classic, you're already setting yourself up to get pooped on because this film isn't it. It's got some interesting ideas that could've worked well in its favor, including its message, even though some of them were less effective than others.
"Strays" is supposed to portray the definition of good owners vs. bad owners, similar to good pets vs. bad pets. In Reggie's case, the gullible pup learns to come to terms with Doug being an absolute D-bag. As for Bug, his tragic past made him realize how terrible humans are. It's similar to how we see people. There are good people and terrible pieces of poop in this world. We just need to open up in order to find the former. Admittedly, the heart was in the right place, but regarding Dan Perrault's screenplay, it periodically favors dogs performing raunchy acts over its thought-provoking themes. I'm not pulling your leash. The movie really wants you to know that it's not made for younger audiences, from the adult language to the dogs humping lawn ornaments. It's pretty constant if you're not into raunchy comedies, but was it at least hilarious enough to be entertaining? Yes, it is.
Unsurprisingly, the movie's humor mainly consists of dog-related elements we see in real life, especially the humping dogs and their "red rockets", along with the usual cussing and sex-related dialogue. Sure, it's unapologetically crude and gross, but it's also consistently hysterical and, more importantly, fun. It's even got a callback to "A Dog's Journey", which I thought was one of the movie's best scenes, and yes, it does involve Josh Gad, who's in the film. Josh Greenbaum is no stranger to this brand of silly humor due to his experience with "Barb and Star", which was surprisingly good if you haven't seen it. So it's unsurprising to see how well he handled the adult comedy in "Strays", even if it's not on par with the other great R-rated comedies from years past.
The comedy also worked because of the cast's talents. While there are real-life actors on stage, the real focus is on the voice actors portraying the talking dogs. Like many other talking animal movies, "Strays" packed a well-known set of actors for their respective canine roles, including Will Ferrell and Jamie Foxx. Spoiler alert: they're incredibly entertaining from start to finish, including Ferrell and Foxx as Reggie and Bug, respectively. Randall Park also delivered some solid gags regarding his vocal performance as Hunter, the therapy dog who wears a cone on his head. As for Will Forte, he did a good job of making me want to punch Doug in the nose several times. I'm sure you'd feel the same way once you see him for yourself. That's how you'll know how good of an actor Forte is.
Regarding the film's visual effects, it's evident that "Strays" would take the CGI route to make the dogs speak. It's one of the main ingredients to make a talking animal movie. But how do they look? Honestly, they looked all right. However, there were a few sequences where the CGI became noticeable to the human eye. Thankfully, they're not huge eyesores compared to the other big-budget blockbusters we recently got, like "The Flash".
Overall, "Strays" is a doggone raunchy treat that'll make you howl for joy. Regarding its storytelling and visuals, it's far from a perfect pet you'll want to own forever. However, it accomplishes its goal of being a diverting and hilarious comedy that's periodically cuddly and unapologetically vulgar. To me, that's all that matters. Thanks to its entertaining cast, raunchy humor, and Greenbaum's handling of its simplistic plot, the movie is fun enough to make me wag my tail with delight, even though I don't have one. If you're a dog person who enjoys R-rated comedies, this film is worth checking out. However, if you're not a fan of F-bombs, sex jokes, and dog abuse, you're not missing much with this one.