Strays offers everything a canine lover could possibly want: dogs peeing, dogs pooping, dogs humping, dogs puking, dogs talking dirty, dogs getting high, dogs…well, you get the idea.
Although the film’s plot concerns an intrepid group of pooches traveling a far distance while facing numerous obstacles, this raunchy live-action comedy featuring the voices of Will Ferrell and Jamie Foxx isn’t exactly The Incredible Journey (unless that Disney classic had been remade by Troma Entertainment).
The Bottom Line
These canines are not for kids.
The story revolves around Reggie (Ferrell), an adorable Border Terrier who’s steadfastly loyal to his owner Doug (Will Forte). That loyalty proves misplaced, since Doug is an abusive lowlife who repeatedly attempts to get Reggie out of his life by playing a “game” that involves dropping him off in the middle of nowhere after long drives — a game Reggie repeatedly wins by amazingly finding his way back home.
Until, that is, Reggie gets thoroughly lost in a big city, where he becomes friends with Bug (Foxx), a foul-mouthed Boston Terrier who quickly wises him up to Doug’s true nature.
Reggie is still determined to get back home, this time not for a joyful reunion but rather to bite off Doug’s favorite part of his anatomy, one to which he pays near constant attention (the sight of Forte shaving his nether regions is not easily forgotten). He’s joined in his quest by two other new acquaintances: Maggie (Isla Fisher), an Australian Shepherd with a killer nose for sniffing out scents; and Hunter (Randall Park), an anxiety-ridden Great Dane who works as a therapy dog in a hospice after flunking out of the canine police academy. Hunter wears a protective cone around his neck — not because he needs one, but because it makes him feel more at ease.
Add multiple f-words to every one of the preceding sentences and you’ll have an idea of Dan Perrault’s screenplay, which fortunately features enough truly funny gags to make up for its relentless in-your-face vulgarity. The writer has clearly done ample research for the project, managing to wring every bit of humor possible out of canine behavior, more than you would have ever thought possible. It wouldn’t be surprising to learn that he went undercover in a dog costume at his local animal shelter. Especially since one of the film’s most amusing scenes concerns a mass breakout in which the inventive pooches distract their hapless guard (Brett Gelman) with a mass pooping event. Of course, they only resort to that after the well-endowed Hunter fails to reach the keys with his engorged pink penis, the expansion of which is facilitated by Maggie talking dirty.
It’s no wonder the film’s poster features one of the dogs prominently holding an R-rating announcement in his mouth, since careless parents who bring their kids to see these adorable pups will have a lot of explaining to do to their traumatized children. It wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, though, since Strays also delivers a heartfelt message about the importance of loving our endlessly loyal canine pets. And not letting them eat wild mushrooms, as that would result in them getting stoned out of their minds, which happens here.
In case you’re wondering how the dogs appear to be talking, it’s with the same CGI animation that has made doggie lips move in many previous films, a visual effect that is as creepy as it is uncanny. And although there’s no small amount of other visual trickery in the film’s animal depictions (squirrels and eagles also appear), the real dog performers have clearly been extremely well trained in their paces, delivering the sort of complex, nuanced performances that should put many human thespians to shame. Director Josh Greenbaum (Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar) clearly has the patience of a saint.
Even with its brief 93-minute running time, Strays feels thin and repetitive; after all, there are only so many times you can laugh at, say, a dog happily eating another’s dog vomit. But the film nonetheless delivers plenty of laughs, making up for many of its clunkers through sheer volume and the talents of its starry voice cast. Even in middle age, Ferrell can still amusingly convey the boundless naïveté that he did in Elf, while Foxx leans into his rapid-fire, profanity-laden material with Richard Pryor-like gusto. Fisher employs her Australian accent to charming effect, and Park is hilarious with his deadpan line readings as the Great Dane who has nothing to be insecure about.
Among the other vocal performers are Rob Riggle and Josh Gad as a pair of overzealous K-9 dogs and Sofia Vergara as a seductive couch. And if you have to ask how a couch can be seductive, you haven’t been around enough dogs. There’s also a fun cameo by a famous actor who’s starred in a couple of hit dog-themed movies himself.
If you’re wondering whether Reggie gets to complete his mission of revenge, suffice it to say that Forte proves himself a good sport and you’ll never hear Miley Cyrus’ hit song “Wrecking Ball” the same way again.
Production companies: Universal Pictures, Gloria Sanchez Productions, Lord Miller, Picturestart, Rabbit Hole Productions, Universal Animation Studios
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Cast: Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Isla Fisher, Randall Park, Brett Gelman, Will Forte, Josh Gad, Harvey Guillen, Rob Riggle, Jamie Demetriou, Sofia Vergara
Director: Josh Greenbaum
Screenwriter: Dan Perrault
Producers: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Erik Feig, Aditya Sood, Louis Leterrier, Dan Perrault
Executive producers: Nikka Baida, Doug Merrifield, Jessica Switch, Julia Hammer
Director of photography: Tim Orr
Production designer: Aaron Osborne
Editors: Greg Hayden, David Rennie
Costume designer: Romy Itizgsohn
Composer: Dara Taylor
Casting: Rebecca Carfagna, Meagan Lewis
1 hour 33 minutes