Strays is a Puerile Comedy That Goes to the Dogs

Marketing people know what’s up when they pitched Strays as coming from the studio that brought you Ted and Cocaine Bear instead of the director of the gloriously side-splitting Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. If they’d leaned in on the fact it was directed by Josh Greenbaum audiences would have expected some level of sophistication that is utterly lacking in Strays. While the film is crafted cleverly (the mixture of live action dogs and CGI) and boasts an excellent voice cast, one can’t help wondering who the foul mouthed, penis obsessed, comedy is for. The answer is probably stoners like Doug (Will Forte) and anyone who thinks Dan Perrault’s ‘College Humour’ sketches are peak genius.

Will Ferrell voices the scruffy little dog, Reggie (or Shithead) who has ended up living with the odious loser Doug simply because he didn’t want his girlfriend who dumped him over a pair of another woman’s underpants (presented by Reggie) to have the pup. If ever a dog suffered Stockholm Syndrome, Reggie is our boy. He thinks that Doug driving him miles away to play ‘Fetch and Fuck’ – in which Reggie fetches the tennis ball and Doug exhales “fuck” every time he returns it, is how he’s keeping his master happy. “Today is a beautiful day,” Reggie opines because he is with the slovenly, constantly stoned, chronic masturbator who must love him because he lets him eat food off the floor.

One day Doug realises that the dog is going to make his way back to him regardless how many times he tries to dump him and drives the pup into the city. Reggie is in a new world now, he’s a stray. Saved from some mean streets dog thugs by the seemingly batshit Bug (Jamie Foxx) Reggie is taught the three rules of the stray: if you pee on something you own it, you can hump whatever you want, and you never leave another stray alone. Bug introduces him to two other dogs. Maggie (Isla Fisher) who has become surplus to requirements to her Instagram obsessed owner who has a new puppy to match her outfits, and Hunter (Randall Park) a massive hound who failed police dog training because he didn’t like violence, suffers from extreme anxiety, and has an enormous dog penis (don’t worry, you’ll get to see it). Bug, Maggie, and Hunter take Reggie on a nighttime odyssey of humping, drinking left over beer, pizza scrounging and general doggy debaucher while letting him know that Doug did indeed dump him, and Doug will have to pay. The plan? Find their way back to Doug so Reggie can bite his dick off.

There are some comedic beats that work extremely well the first time they’re introduced but as the film goes on it becomes repetitive and tired. How many times do we hear Bug telling random dogs, people, cats and assorted objects to get fucked? A lot. How many humping jokes are there? So many that Bug’s favourite fuck sofa even has a name and a voice (Delilah the Couch voiced by Sophia Vergara). There are dozens of butt sniffing gags, a couple of dogs like to eat poop and vomit gags, and even a dad joke starting with “knock knock.” If something is specific to a dog’s weird behaviour it will get some kind of nod.

The pack of misfits do have some charming moments together and there is a strong message that dogs are more than just accessories and deserve to be treated with kindness but the frat boy humour eventually takes a toll and by the time the PFFs (BFFs but they peed on each other) get past the accidentally eating psychotropic mushrooms, which is actually one of the best scenes in the film, to a “Poop to freedom” pound escape, what’s funny and what isn’t begins to blur into a continual punchline that ends with excrement, fucking, or profanity.

It isn’t as if anyone was expecting anything subtle if they saw the trailer, far from it. Nor is it that dogs being dirty is somehow a taboo. It’s the one note style of humour that keeps playing over and over that robs the movie of its bright spots. There are some great cameos of both the live human variety (Dennis Quaid, Brett Gellman) and of the voice variety (Rob Riggle and Josh Gad as the ACAB police dogs are standouts), and Will Forte takes his horrible penis obsessed character up to eleven and gives us a bad guy to really root against. Some scenes are quite touching as the dogs break down their human related trauma and how coming to accept what they really want in their limited time on earth.

For audiences who want to just guffaw over bawdy humour coming out of the mouths of cute pups, Strays will be a winner and will probably have them howling. For anyone who wants a scintilla of humour that isn’t juvenile, they’d best move on. Strays will find its people and for them it will be a riotously good time. The revenge scene at Doug’s house is a blast and features a brilliantly timed needle drop. One might even get a bit sentimental over where the pack of PFFs end up. However, there’s a lot of literal and figurative crap to wade through to get to the good bits and while Strays isn’t a failure, it’s only minorly successful even in its own throwback adult humour genre.

Director: Josh Greenbaum

Cast: Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Isla Fisher

Writer: Dan Perrault

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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