Strays didn’t need to reach high to be guilty-pleasure entertainment; it just needed to do more than revel in reaching as low as possible. Photo courtesy of Lord Miller Productions

Film Review: Strays

Film Reviews

Director: Josh Greenbaum

Lord Miller Productions and Picturestart
In Theaters: 08.18

What makes for an amusing trailer doesn’t necessarily make for a good feature film, and the raunchy dog comedy Strays may be the most extreme example of this in movie history.

Strays follows a lovable and simple Border Terrier named Reggie (Will Ferrell, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy) who loves his owner, Doug (Will Forte) with all of his considerable heart, oblivious to the fact that Doug is a disgusting, narcissistic loser who only holds on to Reggie out of spite for his ex-girlfriend, who truly loved the dog. When Doug abandons Reggie on the streets, he meets a group of strays led by Bug (Jamie Foxx, Ray, They Cloned Tyone), a street-wise Boston Terrier with a foul mouth and an intense sexual attraction to furniture. They join Maggie (Isla Fisher, Now You See Me) an Australian Shepherd, and Hunter (Randall Park, Always Be My Maybe), a Great Dane who used to be a police dog but now works as an emotional support therapy animal. Together, the group embarks on an incredible journey to help Reggie exact furry vengeance on Doug by biting off his penis.

Strays is meant as a parody of dog movies like Homeward Bound or The Art of Racing in the Rain, and the idea of adding a subversive edge to these movies is a promising one. The trailers make it clear that Strays is going for shock value, and in the trailer’s short format, the concept made me laugh. In feature form, the total reliance on lowest common denominator–humor was an arduous experience. It’s a dog comedy—a few poop jokes are to be expected. An extended montage sequence showing closeups of the result of a group of dogs setting out to cover a room in excrement is not something I wanted to see, and I felt like I was owed a full refund of the ticket price even though I saw it for free. 

In addition to poop, the sheer number of dog sex jokes is seemingly endless, and the nicest thing that can be said about them is that each joke is better than the one that follows it. There are a few scattered chuckles throughout, though the only truly big laugh for me in the entire runtime was a variation on the “dogs hate mailmen” cliche, and that should not be the highlight of any film. The frustrating thing about Strays is that my expectations going into the film would have been nonexistent had it not been made under the Lord Miller banner. Between The Lego Movie, the Spider-Verse films, The Mitchells vs. the Machines and The After Party, the filmmaking team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have set the bar high for anything with their names on it. While the duo only serve as executive producers, Strays brings down their credibility. 

Ferrell is perfectly cast in the role of Reggie, bringing the same kind of endearing cluelessness he brought to the role of Buddy in Elf. I can’t deny that he made me care about the character, as did Fisher as Maggie. The other genuine laugh in the movie involves a cameo by Josh Gad (Frozen) as a “narrator dog” (a dog who does internal monologues to tell its owner’s story). All of the voice performers do solid work, and Forte is effectively nasty. 

Strays didn’t need to reach high to be guilty-pleasure entertainment; it just needed to do more than revel in reaching as low as possible. This unremovable pet stain is the most unpleasant major release I’ve seen since the infamous 2013 anthology comedy Movie 43, and like that film, it’s a regrettable and even dumbfounding waste of time and talent. –Patrick Gibbs

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