REVIEW: Strays (2023, dir. Josh Greenbaum)

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 93 mins

UK Distributor: Universal Pictures

WHO’S IN STRAYS?

Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Will Forte, Isla Fisher, Randall Park, Josh Gad, Harvey Guillén, Rob Riggle, Brett Gelman, Jamie Demetriou, Sofía Vergara, Dennis Quaid

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Josh Greenbaum (director, producer), Dan Perrault (writer, producer), Erik Feig, Louis Leterrier, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and Aditya Sood (producers), Dara Taylor (composer), Tim Orr (cinematographer), Greg Hayden, Sabrina Plisco and David Rennie (editors)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

An abandoned dog (Ferrell) teams with a pack of strays to get revenge…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON STRAYS?

Like the ownerless dogs of the title, Strays is a peculiar animal. On one level, it’s a foul-mouthed parody of endearing canine-friendly movies like A Dog’s Purpose, and then on the next level, it’s a surprisingly touching study of being in a toxic relationship – albeit one with jokes about dogs pooping and pissing and humping every five or so minutes. In theory, such a mash-up of themes and tones shouldn’t work, let alone in a movie about dogs that curse, but somehow this unapologetically silly comedy just about comes together to work well enough.

The film begins when we meet Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell), a scrappy and adorable little Border Terrier who loves nothing more in the world than his human owner, Doug (Will Forte). What Reggie doesn’t seem to realise, however, is that Doug is a truly nasty piece of work; he is a drunken, verbally abusive loser who resents Reggie ever since the pup unintentionally revealed Doug’s affair to his girlfriend, and has been trying (and failing) to get rid of the dog ever since. After Doug finally abandons Reggie in the middle of the city, the naïve young dog quickly befriends a Boston Terrier named Bug (Jamie Foxx) and his pals, Australian Shepherd Maggie (Isla Fisher) and Great Dane Hunter (Randall Park), who show Reggie the hard-partying life of a stray – which mostly involves humping and peeing on anything within sight – causing Reggie to realise just how badly he’s been mistreated. Reggie’s resolution, therefore, is to head on a journey with his new friends and return to Doug, not out of loyalty, but to instead exact vengeance by destroying the one thing he truly loves: his dick.

As you can probably already tell, Strays is the kind of movie that wears its adult rating proudly on its collar (and on its poster, too). Each of our cute and fluffy canine heroes swears up a storm, as they endlessly hump nearly every inanimate object they can find, eat up each other’s vomit, pee on each other to mark their friendship, admire their penis sizes, trip out on wild mushrooms, and make piles upon piles of their own poop. All of that, by the way, before we even get to an insane finale where a major goal may or may not be fulfilled in the most hilariously gruesome way possible (with one hell of an inspired needle drop, too). It’s like if a Farrelly Brothers comedy from the late 90s or early 2000s cross-bred with Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, deploying just about every obvious dog joke it can think of – from mistaking fireworks at a county fair for a warzone, to thinking that the postman is the most evil being on the planet – while adding layers and layers of gross-out gags for pure shock value.

It’s entirely understandable if none of that does it for you, but if, like I was, you’re willing to go in open-minded and fully accepting that this is the kind of movie that it is, then Strays will give you some good laughs amidst the chaos. While the humour is, again, just a load of obvious dog jokes you may have already heard on something like Family Guy, I did end up laughing at most of them, because the script – written by Dan Perrault, the creator of Netflix’s hit mockumentary series American Vandal – does not shy away from its own silliness, nor from the fact that it is so reliant on all this gross-out material for most of its humour, that it’s almost admirable. Director Josh Greenbaum, whose last feature Barb and Star Goes to Vista Del Mar was similarly self-aware of its own eccentric, Jamie-Dornan-singing-a-ballad-about-a-seagull silliness, also embraces the opportunity to insert some out-there gags that also get some unexpected laughs from just how bizarre they are, from a main character’s fixation on a garden gnome that they believe to be their son, to a few hilarious callbacks to A Dog’s Purpose, some of which involve original actors Josh Gad and Dennis Quaid.

Even if all the juvenile humour involving dog poop isn’t exactly your cup of Chappie, it might be reassuring to know that Strays still manages to have some surprisingly sweet moments between its furry and foul-mouthed canine buddies, as well as some even more surprisingly themes that ring true for any species. It discusses the emotional complexity of being in an abusive relationship, as Reggie is with his nasty human owner, while other characters face issues of abandonment and insecurity; again, none of these topics are exactly marking new territory, even among the more family-friendly talking dog movies out there, but there is enough heart and gentleness put into these moments that they do still land an unexpectedly sincere punch.

While Strays is certainly treading close to a lot of the kind of lowest common denominator gross-out animal humour that you’d expect it to have from the trailer, it just about gets away with most of it, thanks to a script that’s a bit more sincere and certainly funnier than it has any right to be, and isn’t afraid to go all in on its own raunchy concept that, after years of being the butt of many juvenile gags, finally gives dogs their day.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Strays often opts for the most obvious dog-related humour in this gross-out and very much un-family-friendly parody of films like A Dog’s Purpose, but it gets away with most of it thanks to a script that’s funnier and surprisingly more heartfelt than it has any right to be.

Strays is now showing in cinemas nationwide

Click here to find showtimes near you!

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