Strays is full of shit. The comedy, directed by Josh Greenbaum, is literally filled with giant piles of dog shit. Some of that shit, though, is also metaphorical.
STRAYS ★★ (2/4 stars)
The movie, which hovers between ridiculous crass comedy and oddly touching moments of sweetness, is completely inane. But that silliness may also be what makes it somewhat endearing and, certainly, entertaining. Produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the film is based on a script by Dan Perrault (American Vandal), although the story is also something you could probably come up with while stoned on a random Tuesday. Essentially, it’s a talking dog movie for adults in the vein of Ted, which is probably enough information to determine whether someone would go see it.
Reggie, a scrappy Border Terrier voiced by Will Ferrell, lives with Doug (Will Forte), who refers to the adorable little dog as “Shitbag.” Doug hates Reggie, mostly because the pup’s discovery of a random pair of underwear caused his girlfriend to leave him. Every day Doug pops Reggie into the back of his pick-up truck and drives him far from home, abandoning him with his beloved tennis ball. And every day Reggie finds his way back. But eventually Doug drops Reggie off three hours from home in a bad part of town, where he meets Bug, a Boston Terrier voiced by Jamie Foxx. Bug teaches him the rules of the street—pee on everything is the main directive—and introduces him to Maggie (Isla Fisher), an Australian Shepherd, and Hunter (Randall Park), an anxiety-ridden Great Dane who uses his neck cone as a defense mechanism.
The pack, played by actual dogs with the help of CGI, get up to some hijinks, including aggressively humping lawn ornaments and drinking old beer from trash bags. It’s like Wedding Crashers, with man’s best friend instead of Bradley Cooper. But as he learns more about the real world, Reggie comes to realize how badly he was treated by Doug and he wants revenge. He’s going to bite Doug’s dick off, he announces, and the other dogs are ready and willing to join in for the adventure. The rest of the movie involves the four dogs traversing the wilderness back to Doug’s decrepit house, with mixed results. A scene where they are terrified by fireworks at a country fair is genuinely funny, shot like a tense war movie. Another scene where they accidentally chow down on magic mushrooms is not.
At the heart of Strays, there are some sincere messages about friendship and love. The dogs called themselves PFFs (they all peed on each other) and Reggie and Bug go through big emotional ups and downs. Bug’s backstory and the eventual resolution of his journey are sweet. But the dual tones don’t always come together seamlessly. The movie really goes there in certain moments—a male dog goes full frontal erect—and it’s unclear what it wants to be and who it’s for. Parents will have some explaining to do if their kids see this, but many adults will likely find it too dumb. Ultimately, Strays is probably a movie for people on a lot of drugs.
When they work, low-brow comedies are delightful, escapist diversions. Strays gets there sometimes, but the laughs aren’t as frequent as you might expect. Instead, you’ll find yourself gasping, shrieking and covering your mouth with your hands (seriously, there’s a lot of poop). The actors give it their all—Foxx and Fisher are the standouts—and Forte seems game for every ludicrous moment the filmmakers throw at him (and there is a truly insane one towards the end). It’s oddly difficult to critique Strays because it’s not poorly made and it involves a lot of funny people. But it’s also not good. Although it might be if you ate some of those magic mushrooms the dogs found in the woods.
Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.