Strays (2023)
Strays (2023)

Genre: Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 33 min.

Release Date: August 18th, 2023 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Josh Greenbaum Actors: Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Isla Fisher, Randall Park, Will Forte, Rob Riggle, Josh Gad, Sofia Vergara

 


 

“I

love sunshine! I love butterflies!” Reggie the unkempt, shaggy mutt (Will Ferrell) thinks his owner is the best owner in the world, as most dogs do; unconditional love is overpowering and, frankly, a bit sad. It’s particularly cruel considering that Reggie is hopelessly attached to Doug (Will Forte), an all-around loser of a guy, who is not just a terrible pet owner, but also a terrible human being. He’s downright abusive, repeatedly neglecting (and hitting) his pup in favor of booze and drugs and self-pleasure. So when Doug drives three hours out of town to abandon Reggie in an alleyway, it’s not exactly surprising.

Nevertheless, Reggie remains optimistic. Surely it’s just a really complex game of fetch. And with the help of a few fellow strays (or a couple of dogs that aren’t well-confined to their homes), including Bug (Jamie Foxx), Maggie (Isla Fisher), and Hunter (Randall Park), he might make the incredibly long journey back to his rundown, filthy Oakwood house, to reunite with his despicable master. “The best relationships are the hard ones.”

It’s admittedly strange to see a 2023 movie with real animal actors (American Humane hasn’t put a stop to the practice altogether?), since the majority of recent releases have resorted to total digital substitutes. It certainly feels as if this is the era of CG animals exclusively. Yet here, the dogs are entirely real, though their mouths are modified with animation to simulate speech, which, while not comprehensively convincing, is still leaps and bounds beyond what was previously done in comparable projects. Curiously, the premise is closer to traditional animation productions, borrowing elements from “Lady and the Tramp,” “Oliver & Company,” and “101 Dalmatians,” primarily with the rough-around-the-edges street dogs showing the ropes to unprepared, pampered newcomers. “You’re on your own.”

It’s also similar to “Homeward Bound,” though the most obvious disassociation becomes evident within the first few sentences. With its hard R-rating, “Strays” feels as if it’s emulating “Sausage Party” by taking a generally family-friendly premise and littering it with edgy, adult material. The contrast is considerable, as cute, furry critters spout all sorts of profanities and engage in all manners of lewd behaviors. It’s a nonstop onslaught of cursing, sexual jokes, vomit and feces-based yucks, and a darkly wry motive of revenge. Problematically, however, is its relentless, sustained presentation of such vulgarities. When the crass gags never let up, they not only become extremely repetitive, but also anticipated; when everything is notably indelicate, nothing stands out.

But perhaps the film’s greatest offense is its lack of humor. Obscenities by themselves aren’t inherently funny, nor are the simple observations about routine canine conduct, such as their fear of fireworks, indiscriminate urinating, fixation on toys, self-grooming habits, and turning in circles repeatedly before lying down. Recognizable and endearing, perhaps, but not funny. Despite the animal actors exhibiting a wealth of emotions and idiosyncrasies, trained to do impressive feats of obedience (and humping inanimate objects on command), the voices given to them also have very little to say. They certainly can’t seem to blurt out anything remotely humorous.

It’s a stoner comedy without comedy, almost indescribably juvenile in its scripting and jesting. Mild misadventures in the streets, the woods, the pound, and more provide not an ounce of originality or creativity. “Strays” is a one-note concept: having live-action dogs swear incessantly as they make friends, fall out, overcome obstacles, travel across the city, navigate unlikely independence, and remind audiences to treat their own pets with kindness. By the end, it’s both commonplace and uninspired in its storytelling, while also predominantly just pitiful, gross, mean-spirited, and unsatisfying. “Rule #2: You can pretty much hump whatever you want.”

– Mike Massie

  • 2/10