The HoloFiles

REVIEWS: Strays

By George Bate & Josh Bate

Strays review

They say that a dog is a man’s best friend. But that’s not the case with Reggie and Doug in Strays. The Border Terrier Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell) harbors a beautiful, childlike innocence that shields him from a brutal reality: his owner Doug (played by Will Forte) hates him. This hatred runs so deep in fact that Doug drives far away from home and dumps Reggie with the hope that his dog will never return home. After Reggie conquers this ‘game’ and continues to return home despite his owner’s wishes, Doug takes Reggie three hours away, dropping him off in the middle of nowhere, and rendering him a stray. The tragic reality of the situation soon sets in for Reggie, who arrives at a conclusion of how he wishes to deal with Doug…he wants to bite Doug’s penis off.

Alternating between heartbreaking and ludicrous is Strays, a new comedy from Universal Pictures and director Josh Greenbaum (Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar). The film follows Reggie the dog’s efforts to seek revenge against his owner Doug for abandoning him. This pursuit of revenge sees him team up with Bug (a Boston Terrier voiced by Jamie Foxx), Hunter (a Great Dane voiced by Randall Park), and Maggie (an Australian Shepherd voiced by Isla Fisher) on a journey that exposes Reggie to the harsh realities of the world and what true belonging really feels like.

It’s rare for a film to be simultaneously so crude and yet so endearing, but that’s the case with Strays. Let’s address the crude piece first. One second, the talking dogs are humping couches and garden gnomes and the next second there is an adorable and tear-inducing moment. This doesn’t speak to Strays’ tonal inconsistency necessarily, but, rather, its mixed success at humor and heart. Strays stands apart as something unique given that it blends very adult R-rated humor with cute talking dogs. As such, many of the film’s jokes play off of this discrepancy, which grows somewhat tiresome and repetitive as the runtime progresses. The seemingly endless array of rude, over-the-top gags revolving around this discrepancy between the R-rated humor and the cute dogs’ innocence are bound to elicit loud laughs from some, but these same jokes will likely produce groans and eye-rolls from others.

Thankfully, Strays is a surprisingly worthwhile watch beyond its mixed success with humor. The script from Dan Perrault and delightful voice-acting from Ferrell, Foxx, Park, and Fisher make for a refreshingly sweet R-rated comedy with plenty of heart. The film’s premise of Reggie being abandoned and becoming a stray is dealt with for all sorts of humorous moments, but it also lends itself to sweet moments about found family and finding new purpose. No, Strays is not some philosophically demanding theatrical experience. And yet, it manages to strike an emotional chord in a manner few studio comedies do.

Strays review

What also must be commended about Strays are the dogs and visual effects that bring the film’s central characters to life. The four leading dogs feature in virtually every moment of the film, leaving very few instances of actual human characters making an appearance. W.C. Fields famously said, “Never work with children or animals,” but the filmmakers behind Strays clearly disregarded this wisdom as they use real dogs in camera throughout the film. The expressions and performances, for lack of a better word, of the dogs are genuinely impressive and make for a far more personable experience than talking animals in live-action films like Marmaduke or Cats & Dogs.

VERDICT: 6.5/10

Strays takes talking dogs and gives them a wild R-rating to run with. Crude and over-the-top humor falls flat more often than not, but the film finds unexpected success with its heart and endearing messages. Impressive filmmaking that produces personable and performative dogs, in addition to solid voice acting from Ferrell and Foxx, help the film overcome some of its comedic failings. While not the R-rated laugh-out-loud comedy the filmmakers likely hoped it would be, Strays excels as an endearing and entertaining 90 minute escape.

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