As some wise, insightful person once said, comedy — on- or off-screen — is, was, and likely always will be the most subjective of genres. What passes as “funny” to one audience member might not be for another audience member just a seat or two away. That, in turn, means that moviegoers primed for a big-screen, adult-oriented comedy should tread with caution, carefully watching and rewatching the trailer (or trailers), the multiplicity of TV/online ads, and anything else they can find on an upcoming release.
All that said, if you — meaning whoever’s reading this at the moment — prefer your comedies crude, vulgar, and profane, and with anthropomorphized canines, then Strays, directed by Josh Greenbaum (Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar) from a screenplay credited to Dan Perrault (American Vandal), just might be for you. For anyone else, staying away and finding an alternative moviegoing experience might be the way to go.
Strays centres on Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell), a badly mistreated, oft-abused Border Terrier nominally owned by Doug (Will Forte). A loser in all but name, Doug blames Reggie for all his ill fortunes (or lack thereof), up to and including the loss of his cush, job-free life as an everyday stoner and chronic masturbator inexplicably financed by his now ex-girlfriend. When she leaves, the result of Reggie’s discovery of another woman’s underwear in their home, Doug predictably descends into a rage spiral, taking the poor, unfortunate Reggie with him.
While Doug gaslights the perpetually naive Reggie into thinking their “Fetch and F*ck” game isn’t meant in bad faith, Reggie plays along, retrieving a sodden tennis ball and returning home across roads, fields, and otherwise nondescript distances back to Doug’s home. Until he doesn’t, however, as Doug, frustrated with Reggie’s preternatural homing instincts, effectively abandons him in the nearby big, bad city where big, bad things await the well-meaning pup.
Reggie’s fortunes, though, almost immediately turn for the better when he encounters Bug (Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx), a wiry, foul-mouthed Boston Terrier who’s mastered the fine art of living in the streets and fine dining amidst the city’s premiere garbage dumps and restaurant alley-ways. Before long, Bug has also introduced Reggie to his two best canine friends, Maggie (Isla Fisher), an Australian Shepherd semi-abandoned by her influencer owner, and Hunter (Randall Park), a jowly Great Dane who works as a therapy dog for “dying humans.” It’s honest work, though it leaves Hunter needing as much therapy as he meets out to the ancients under his care.
Eventually, a goal or aim emerges from the foursome’s seemingly random activities: Bug convinces Reggie not only of Doug’s abject failures as an owner and human but also of the need to exact a form of revenge, long-lasting and possibly permanent, on Doug. Within the framework of Strays, the revenge mission gives the foursome an objective to accomplish (i.e., getting back to Doug, Homeward Bound-style) while ensuring penis-related humour remains on the lips, tongues, and voices of the canine antiheroes and by extension, the audience.
Greenbaum and Perrault work the R-rated premise to the breaking point and more often than not, beyond, delivering a steady diet of anatomical and excremental humour with almost admirable regularity. Bug’s endless, profanity-laced tirades, however, quickly become tiresome while a recurring joke involving the size of Hunter’s member becomes increasingly flaccid with repetition. The periodic, mean-spirited reminders of Doug and his pathetic loserdom also keep things if not exactly light, then at least laugh-worthy.
Still, the mix of verbal and physical humour, Greenbaum and Perrault’s fearless willingness to go well beyond the bounds of good taste, help to deliver on the promise inherent in the R-rated premise. Add to that Ferrell’s faux-sincere vocalizations as the downtrodden Reggie and an equally game voice cast, and Strays comes close – roughly 20-30 minutes from the end credits close — to offering a perfect bit of counter-programming to the summer’s remaining holdovers and also-rans.
Strays arrives in multiplexes everywhere on Friday, August 18.