Foul-Mouthed Strays Unleashes Tail-Wagging Hilarity
Strays is a one-joke movie. Director Josh Greenbaum and writer Dan Perrault have basically taken The Incredible Journey and A Dog’s Purpose and given them an R-rated, talking-animal (à la Babe) twist. That’s it. There’s not much more to it.
Thankfully, this thin slice of foul-mouthed, four-legged carnage offers up enough hearty laughs to make its nonsensical, bare-bones premise moderately worthwhile. Perrault’s script goes to some unexpectedly nasty (and unsurprisingly politically incorrect) places, and Greenbaum has the determination to join him there without flinching. The comedy also boasts an outstanding vocal ensemble, with Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Randall Park, and a superb (and almost unrecognizable) Isla Fisher each turning in exceptional performances worth barking in appreciation for.
After border terrier Reggie (voiced by Ferrell) is abandoned by his slovenly, ill-tempered owner Doug (Will Forte) hours away from home, he is befriended by foul-mouthed Boston terrier Bug (Foxx). He’s a stray and insists his new friend is now one, too. But the happy-go-lucky Reggie is resolute that Doug is only playing a game with him, and as long as he somehow makes it back to his owner with his trusty tennis ball in his mouth, all will go back to normal.
The pair are joined on this impossible trek by Australian shepherd Maggie (Fisher), who has suddenly been forced into the shadows when her influencer owner buys a new puppy; and Great Dane Hunter (Park), a former police dog who was kicked off of the force and now works as an emotional support animal for hospice residents. Making their way through county fairs, eagle attacks, firework displays, and a field of hallucinogenic mushrooms, the quartet is determined to battle all obstacles in their single-minded quest to get Reggie home to Doug.
Sounds simple enough, and Perrault’s scenario certainly doesn’t stray too far from the one author Sheila Burnford introduced in her award-winning 1961 novel. The kicker? Once Reggie has his eyes opened to the reality of what Doug has done, he has no interest in making nice with his owner. Instead, he wants to bite him right in the you-know-where, and this is what gets Bug, Maggie, and Hunter interested in joining their new friend on this adventure.
Greenbaum directs with the same creative flair he brought to Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, and most of the major set pieces satisfyingly tickled my funny bone. But even at a brisk 93 minutes, there’s some definite padding happening here, and not all of the pieces are as amusing or as inventive as I kept hoping they would be. Still, I laughed quite a bit, and the heartwarming moments brought a well-earned smile to my face.
This is unquestionably adult stuff. There’s a four-letter obscenity seemingly every third or fourth word, and at least a third of the gags revolve around the size of each canine’s genitals or how much fun it is to have sex with inanimate objects. The segment with those aforementioned mushrooms gets surprisingly dark (the humor goes several levels beyond pitch black to bordering on being outright gruesome), and I’m still not entirely sure I’m a fan of where Greenbaum and Perrault rather aggressively decide to take things during this sequence.
But I admit I loved the climax. The filmmakers went for broke, and I’m glad. It’s a crazy, messed-up blast of magnificently orchestrated chaos, and just when I began to think Greenbaum and Perrault were going to pull their punches, they instead did the exact opposite. I was laughing so hard that my eyes watered and my side began to hurt, and from the sounds crashing through the theater like a tidal wave of gut-busting hilarity, it’s safe to say I was far from the only member of my preview audience who felt this way.
There’s not a lot more to add. The animal performances are strong and the puppet work is equally noteworthy, while the visual effects allowing the dogs to speak are reasonably strong. I enjoyed myself far more than I did not, and as silly and as uncouth as the film is, rarely did any of what Greenbaum and Perrault were doing come across as amateurish or sophomoric.
Strays pawed its way into my heart, and I’m not even that much of a dog lover. I can only imagine that those audience members who are will fall over their own joyfully wagging tails after they watch it for themselves.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)