Despite the fact that screenwriter Dan Perrault is a fan of such canine-centric cinema as Homeward Bound and 101 Dalmatians, his Strays is far from the family-friendly temperament those aforementioned titles adhere to. But that’s also not to say that Strays doesn’t love the four-legged furries at its core – if ever there was a movie to drive home about loving your dog, it’s this – it just isn’t above putting them in peril, doping them up for acidic trips, and utilising their sexual prowess (and organs, for that matter).
Directed by Josh Greenbaum (who helmed the equally absurd, but less profane, Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar), Perrault’s R-rated dog-idea of a movie centres itself around Border Terrier Reggie (voiced with relentless optimism by Will Ferrell), a should-be loved pup who catches the bad end of a metaphorical stick when his owners break-up and he’s held for emotional ransom by Doug (Will Forte). Doug is the quintessential low-life, and his distain for Reggie (the nicest, most PG-rated name he can be referred to in this review) is evident to everyone – and every dog – except Reggie himself; the poor, naïve thing even thinks it’s a loveable game Doug plays when he drops him off hours away from home to play “fetch”, and when he returns with the ball and hears Doug exclaim “Fuck!” that he’s won said “game”.
Fed up with Reggie always finding his way back home – and it’s a word of warning for anyone who doesn’t appreciate themes of animal neglect that Strays harbours a mean streak throughout – Doug drops him off hours away out of town, believing he’s finally rid of the pooch and that he can go back to drowning his sorrows, getting high and masturbating in peace. It isn’t long for Reggie in his new unexplored surroundings that he falls in with Bug (Jamie Foxx), a fast-talking, foul-mouthed Boston Terrier, who quickly lays down the law about being a “stray” and how any dog with an owner can never truly know the beauty in freedom.
Adopting the notion of a toxic relationship and applying it to the dynamic between Reggie and Doug, Strays, quite alarmingly, steps beyond the restrictions of its seeming crude-comedy mentality at times. By no means is Greenbaum’s film a deep, allegorical experience, but amongst its F-bombs, humping montages and toilet humour, it has something to say on how we treat those we claim to love.
Before getting to such said sequences though, we are further introduced to Maggie (Isla Fisher), an Australian Shepherd with a nose to outdo even the most skilfully trained sniffer dogs, and Hunter (Randall Park), a Great Dane, whose sizeable stature (and yes, there are penis jokes aplenty here) is offset by his own anxiousness – a casualty of his work as an emotional support animal. These two have their own “will they/won’t they” dynamic throughout the film, which is admittedly quite sweet, and their somewhat calmer demeanours to Reggie and Bug’s more intense, hyper personalities allows Strays, overall, to enjoy its footing as an ensemble comedy of sorts.
Even with the film’s deeper temperament and ultimate dark destination – Reggie’s endgame is to, and I quote, “bite Doug’s dick off” as payback for his emotional abuse, so you can guess where things go – Strays is still a comedy that favours foul language, non-sensical humour and absurd visual gags to get itself over the finishing line. Not every joke hits or is bathed in originality, but when Perrault and Greenbaum concoct a winning quip or visual gag, it’s almost certainly guaranteed to tickle you correctly; a tie-in joke with the films A Dog’s Purpose and A Dog’s Journey, as well as a truly bizarre Dennis Quaid cameo, serving as two of the film’s most random, well executed laughs.
If you’ve seen the film’s trailers then you’ll already know if Strays and its brand of humour is going to jive with your own vision of funny. And if you haven’t, then Universal Studios singling out their titles Ted and Cocaine Bear as the prime examples of what they’ve brought prior should tell you what type of mind-set is being aimed for here. Overall, Strays may not always be the smartest of their pack, but a scrappy, unapologetic nature means there’s a certain unforgettable-ness here that keeps their journey amusing enough to us as (thankfully) innocent bystanders.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Strays is now screening in Australian theatres.