Strays review: Dogs have sex and do drugs in an unfunny talking-animal comedy

Despite on-camera and off-camera pedigree, this dirty doggy romp is devoid of jokes

Clarisse Loughrey
Thursday 17 August 2023 15:01 BST

The shock factor of Strays, pitched as an R-rated Homeward Bound, may wear off quickly for anyone who has, or has ever had, a dog. Dogs pee. Dogs poop. Dogs have genitals. Dogs hump inanimate objects. Dogs vomit. Dogs sometimes eat their vomit. There’s always a welcome place for raunchy comedies, especially within a summer line-up of sanitised, franchise fare. But, much like the stubby little hero of this film – a border terrier named Reggie voiced by Will FerrellStrays doesn’t have the legs to go much further than repeatedly point out and depict canine bodily functions.

It’s a commendably old-school move, at least, to use live animal actors, with a touch of that early 2000s Beverly Hills Chihuahua-style CGI magic that makes their mouths move. The film, in that light, strives to parody the grand tradition of “dog movies”. Lost canine Reggie teams up with a pack of misfit dogs – Jamie Foxx’s Boston Terrier Bug, who’s all bark and no bite; Isla Fisher’s Australian Shepherd, an expert sniffer; and Randall Park’s Great Dane Hunter, a therapy dog with anxiety – to make the journey back home and to his owner, Doug (Will Forte). Along the way, they even bump into one of those cute Labradors who likes to wistfully narrate the lives of their owners, voiced by Josh Gad (who played that exact same part, for real, in the terrible A Dog’s Purpose).

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of razor-sharp commentary to be mined out of a genre whose raison d’être is cuteness, so the subversions here are fairly straightforward: Reggie was only lost in the first place because Doug is a bong-smoking, nunchuck-flailing layabout who deliberately dumped his dog a three-hour car ride away because he’d grown tired of his antics. When Reggie first meets Bug, he’s initiated into the life of a stray, which mainly involves meaningless sex with couches and waiting around for drunk people to drop their takeaway pizzas.

But the film has a tendency to circle around the same jokes like a dog chasing its own tail (the film reminds us that they like to do this, too). There’s a drug sequence where they hallucinate that they’re animated characters. A bit of sentimentality kicks in when the pack, lost in the woods, stumble onto the trail of a missing Girl Scout. Reggie thinks his name is “S***bag”, because that’s all Doug ever called him – a bit that was already done, and famously so, in Steve Martin’s The Jerk.

Strays was directed by Josh Greenbaum, and written by Dan Perrault, who are both behind projects that handily demonstrate what’s missing here. There’s not enough of the sweet, naive goofiness of Greenbaum’s last film, the surreal Kristen Wiig/Annie Mumolo comedy Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, nor the “dumb people written smartly” quality of Perrault’s underrated Netflix series, American Vandal. And though Ferrell, Foxx, Fisher, and Park are all talented voice actors, the unfortunate reality is that so much of the film’s comedic timing – a precise art, down to the nanosecond – is ultimately determined here by how quickly the animal performers react to their trainer’s commands. And dogs, as precious and good as they may be, don’t tell very funny jokes.

Dir: Josh Greenbaum. Starring: Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Will Forte, Isla Fisher, Randall Park, Josh Gad. 15, 89 minutes.

‘Strays’ is in cinemas

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