Strays review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
With a marketing campaign wallpapering the R-rating as both a safeguard and point of pride, Strays is an “adult” film in the sense that a movie with a lot of profanity, poop, pee, sex, drugs, and erect penises is adult. But that’s all it has to offer, proving to be a barebones satire. Some stoners probably theorized a film idea where a dog movie had many cuss words. That idea probably evaporated amid the haze. Strays showcases the unfortunate result of pushing through this idea.
The premise is a simple one. Reggie (Will Ferrell) is a dog who has been conditioned by his owner, Doug (Will Forte), to believe that being called a “good dog” is a hard-earned label. Doug is abusive, however, and abandons the naive dog in the city. Separated from his master, Reggie learns from the more worldly dogs of Bug (Jamie Foxx), Hunter (Randal Park), and Maggie (Isla Fisher) the more honest depiction of the world. After a night of dog antics, Reggie realizes his owner is terrible, and that revenge is required to bring justice to his life.
Much like Sausage Party, this movie is overflowing with vulgarity as a replacement for a compelling story. There’s nothing with having a film that wants to find the humorous side of the gross stuff. The problem is that the grotesque nature doesn’t go far enough and becomes a tiresome exercise in the vulgar. After all, you can only make so many jokes about how dogs perceive the human world. Strays exhaust all of them, from dogs believing fireworks are humans starting a war to them peeing on everything for ownership. The whole film comes off like a kids’ dog movie using jokes that were discarded, not because they are too adult, but because they’re not clever.
Here’s the most frustrating aspect: This movie has a good joke. Remember the 2017 movie A Dog’s Purpose and how it was a sentimental drivel about a reincarnated dog helping his owner find love throughout the ages? Strays parodies this film by having Josh Gad reprise his role as the talking dog and describing his master more as a serial killer. That’s not a bad joke. The problem is that it’s the only decent gag, and it never goes further with the concept of parodying dog movies. Instead, this comedy goes through the motions of every other dog movie with little distinction beyond more bodily fluids and using more cuss words.
But what more should I expect from a movie like Strays? It advertised itself as being a “not for kids” dog movie, and it did deliver on that simple promise. True, but such films also posed the “adult” nature as The Happytime Murders, which increased sex, violence, and profanity was there was to the film. Consider a scene in Strays where the dogs piss on each other as a friendship pact. The voice actors do their best to ad-lib as much humor as possible for the minute-long group piss session. The dialogue is desperate and not all that funny. Thus, the joke in this scene is not the reaction to the piss; it’s the piss itself. And get used to this format, where the absurd moment of a dog’s pooping montage wears off quickly when even a blunt rap song can’t amp up the silliness.
There’s not much to praise about Strays beyond its technical expertise of composing believable dogs with the voice actors attached to them. Outside of that, there wasn’t a lot to bark about in this picture that feels like The Secret Life of Pets if it involved more penis jokes. Like a joke by a stoner, it’s a mildly funny idea that remains hilarious until the smoke clears and reveals little more than a mess.