"Strays" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
Have you ever wondered what your dog would say if it had the ability to speak to you? I'm sure everyone who has ever owned a dog has thought that; I currently have two at home and I usually find myself wondering what they're thinking when I look at them. Josh Greenbaum's 2023 film "Strays", which stars Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Randall Park, and Isla Fisher as crude-talking dogs, answers that question, presenting a raunchy, hard-R comedy that is very fun and absolutely hilarious at times, while also trying to be heartfelt.
Reggie, played by Ferrell, (or as he's known by his owner Doug (Will Forte), "Shitbag") isn't loved at home. He is constantly mistreated and told how horrible of a dog he is. When Reggie doesn't really pick up on what Doug is laying down for him, the cruel owner decides to abandon Reggie far away, hoping he will never find his way home again.
When Reggie is dropped off in a creepy alley, he encounters Bug (Foxx), a foul-mouthed little stray that only cares about humping thrown-out couches and doing whatever he wants in the world. When Reggie shares his story with his newfound companion, Bug helps him open his eyes to what Doug has been doing to him, prompting Reggie to want to take revenge. What is that revenge you ask? He's going to bite Doug's penis off. The two then set off with Maggie (Fisher) and Hunter (Park), hoping to find their way back to Reggie's old home and take sweet, sweet revenge against the vile man.
From start to finish (literally), this movie is very funny; hilarious at times but more amusing than hilarious for a lot of the film. This isn't bad at all, but if you go in expecting that this movie will have you in stitches, I don't think this is the right movie for you. But, for what it is, it is simply an enjoyable time that will have you laughing alongside your buddies (whether at a joke or the gross-out humor present throughout this film).
The gross-out humor was honestly a big negative for me. Personally, I'm not a giant fan of bathroom humor or any of the sort, and this film seemed like it couldn't get enough of it. I get it, it's easy jokes to make the audience laugh, and the theater I was in definitely did laugh during these scenes. I just find it cheap and not as funny as most people, but that is just a matter of preference. When the writers actually utilized some of the jokes and scenarios, such as the shrooms trip, it was quite well-done. But then, it feels ultimately cheapened by a scene where all of the dogs defecate in glorious fashion in a dog pound, with camera angles making sure we see all the gory details.
In terms of vocal performances, the main four do a stand-out job. They are all absolutely hilarious, and really fit their characters. Ferrell always seems to possess this innocent charm about him, and that works perhaps the best in any of his movies, with the exception of the Christmas classic "Elf". Foxx is also great at making this adorable little dog seem so gruff and menacing with his voice work; it simply fits Foxx so well. Fisher and Park are great secondary protagonists, and I think parts of the film were made better by their inclusion.
The plot and the message as a whole are very interesting. The story is very simple, and sometimes it seems like the writers sacrifice some story devices to use a joke or just have our characters riff off one another for ten minutes. But then, as we enter the third part of our film, it switches to show that dogs have feelings too, and how us humans sometimes don't understand that what we do breaks their little hearts. I think the message they were trying to convey is really well done, but a part of me wishes they tried to convey it a little sooner. It seems like Reggie was going to bite Doug's penis off because he was being egged on by his friends, but they don't really explore his mental state and how he feels about it till the end.
I do think this is a very enjoyable film and I did have quite a bit of fun with it, despite its flaws. I definitely don't think it's the funniest movie of the year, but I simply regard it as a quaint little comedy that delivers some great hard-R moments and contains fantastic vocal work from its main actors. While it's not reinventing the wheel or anything, it can still easily be enjoyed.