STRAYS | Universal Pictures Canada | August 18, 2023
Starring: Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Will Forte, Isla Fisher, Randall Park, Josh Gad, Harvey Guillén, Brett Gelman, Rob Riggle, Jamie Demetriou, Sofia Vergara
Directed By: Josh Greenbaum
They say a dog is a man’s best friend, but what if the man is a total dirtbag? In that case, it might be time for some sweet revenge, doggy style.
When Reggie (voice of Will Ferrell), a naïve, relentlessly optimistic Border Terrier, is abandoned on the mean city streets by his lowlife owner, Doug (voice of Will Forte), Reggie is certain that his beloved owner would never leave him on purpose.
But once Reggie falls in with a fast-talking, foul-mouthed Boston Terrier named Bug (voice of Jamie Foxx), a stray who loves his freedom and believes that owners are for suckers, Reggie finally realizes he was in a toxic relationship and begins to see Doug for the heartless sleazeball that he is.
Determined to seek revenge, Reggie, Bug and Bug’s pals—Maggie (voice of Isla Fisher), a smart Australian Shepherd who has been sidelined by her owner’s new puppy, and Hunter (voice of Randall Park), an anxious Great Dane who’s stressed out by his work as an emotional support animal—together hatch a plan and embark on an epic adventure to help Reggie find his way home … and make Doug pay by biting off the appendage he loves the most. (Hint: It’s not his foot).
REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus
Strays benefits from a strong voice cast to bring to life the adorable dogs of the film, and despite some truly funny moments in the film, the overall experience is bogged down by excessive swearing and gross out moments that are not going to work for all audiences.
R rated comedies are hit and miss as you have to find the right balance of heart and story against the gross out debauchery and explicit profanity that the genre is known for. While not R rated, director Josh Greenbaun found this balance with his last film, the absolutely delightful Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar with Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, which had me hopeful for that balance with his latest film Strays. I’m a dog lover, and while the film has its moments of heart where Greenbaum’s direction breaks through, the film is buried in profanity and childish humour that is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. And parents, be warned, this movie is not for children despite the adorable dogs.
After being abandoned by his owner Doug, confusing Doug’s hatred for him as an affectionate game, Reggie makes friends with a group of dogs, who set out on adventure to seek revenge against Doug and take what he loves most from him.
There are elements of Strays’s screenplay that work well that will appeal to dog lovers. Some of the jokes are very smart, playing on dog personalities or actions, that even though they may not be the raunchiest jokes of the film, they create some of the best laughs. Like the dogs all barking every time Maggie tries to tell a knock knock joke, or the jokes about the narrator dog, which were two of the best moments of the film. The film’s concluding moments finds the heart and warmth that audiences have come to expect from dog films, and with some funny crude comments slipped in, creating the atmosphere that I wanted from the entire film. And the use of Miley Cryus’s “Wrecking Ball” is unforgettable and wildly hilarious. But, unfortunately, the raunchiness of the film overshadows the story’s heart for the majority of the film’s run time. The excessive swearing gets old quickly, as the swearing is in the screenplay because it's supposed to be funny when a dog drops the f-bomb (spoiler alert: it was funny the first couple of times and then not again), and the outrageous and graphic scenarios the dogs find themselves in lacked humour and rubbed me the wrong way. Some audiences are going to love this film, and they will have so much fun with it, but it failed to connect with me in so many ways.
The saving grace of the film is the truly great voice cast. Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Isla Fisher and Randall Park lead the film as Reggie, Bug, Maggie and Hunter respectively, and each of them are brilliant in their roles. Ferrell and Foxx capture the strength and energy of small dogs, Ferrell as the sweeter Reggie and Foxx with a biting attitude that fits the Boston Terrier so well. Park as a therapy dog Great Dane is exceptional casting as he captures the anxiety and caring nature of this dog stuck in a cone. Though, it is Fisher who steals the show as Maggie, the Australian Shepherd. The sass and wisdom Fisher brings to the role, with an authentic Australian accent that energized the entire film. As an ensemble, Ferrell, Foxx, Fisher and Park play off each other’s energy and comedic timing with such ease and expertise that capture your attention for the entire film, whether you like the gags they are performing or not. The supporting cast is not short of comedic talent either, with stars such as Will Forte, Brett Gelman, Rob Riggle, Josh Gad, Sofia Vergara, Greta Lee, Jimmy Tatro, and Harvey Guillén, and every single one of them adds to the great on screen chemistry of the leads.
In a summer full of outstanding R rated comedies that found a wonderful balance between raunchiness and a heartfelt story, Strays fails to make a mark. There are some truly funny moments that had me laughing, and despite an outstanding collection of voice performance including a scene stealing Isla Fisher, Strays spends too much time swearing and being raunchy that it loses the comedic spark and heart it needed to be a rousing hit.