Abandoned by his owner, a happy-go-lucky terrier must learn to survive on the mean streets in this dire comedy, packed with poo jokes and crotch-bothering.
As a film critic gets older, perhaps it’s inevitable that you begin to look at the film releases of your youth with rose-tinted glasses on, lamenting that the general standard of cinema was stronger when you were a wee’un. Increasingly I find myself like Principal Skinner, befuddled by the latest viral craze or music that, to my ageing ears, is nothing but noise.
Yet when it comes to the diminishing returns on offer at the Hollywood Studio Comedy Factory, I feel confident to say that actually, yes – things were better when I was a teenager. While the likes of Step Brothers, Blades of Glory and Hot Rod might have been puerile, at least there was some indication that some time and effort had gone into making them. The same cannot be said for Strays, a film so derivative and tedious one pities the poor dogs who suffered through the indignity of filming it.
Chipper terrier Reggie (Will Ferrell, doing his Elf voice) lives with his unpleasant owner Doug (Will Forte) who kept him out of spite during a break-up with his girlfriend. Doug resents Reggie’s existence, while eternally positive Reggie assumes his abusive behaviour is just a game. After being dumped in the big city, Reggie is befriended by a tough-talking Boston Terrier named Bug (Jamie Foxx) who helps him realise that Doug was a terrible owner. Reggie swears revenge on Doug, and bands together with Bug, Maggie the Australian Shepherd (Isla Fisher) and Hunter the Great Dane (Randall Park) to get his own back.
It’s a clear riff on Disney classic Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey (itself a remake of 1963’s The Incredible Journey, in turn, an adaptation of Sheila Burnford’s novel), in which two dogs and a cat traversed the wilderness to reunite with their beloved owners – Reggie and co even stop to save a small child in the same manner as their cinematic cousins. But while those lost pets had the perils of the wilderness to contend with, Strays screenwriter Dan Perrault opts for smaller stakes in the form of a mushroom trip and minor bunny massacre. The 93-minute runtime is mostly padded out by a plethora of jokes about dicks and bodily fluids which might amuse a group of nine-year-old boys, but is unlikely to impress anyone whose prefrontal cortex has fully formed.
While the film boasts some star power in its vocal talent, their performances are delivered with almost inspiring levels of half-heartedness, and the on-screen humans are restricted to Will Forte’s odious curmudgeon and a brief Dennis Quaid cameo (playing himself in a nod to his appearance in the bafflingly successful A Dog’s Purpose). One must look instead to the animal cast, who are all quite cute and charming as they perform nifty tricks. The CGI that makes them appear to be talking is a little ropey, but it’s hardly the worst offence in the subgenre (and if you’ve seen as many talking dog films as I have, you know how bad things can get). It’s just a shame that none of the dogs are saying anything particularly funny or interesting.
It’s strange that Strays is quite so lazily conceived and executed, since Perrault is the writer behind hit Netflix mockumentary American Vandal, and director Josh Greenbaum’s debut Barb and Star Go to Vista del Mar was a delight. But is there really nothing else that Hollywood has to say about the canine/human relationship beyond scatological humour and pointing out that dogs like to have sex with soft furnishings? Do we think so little of man’s best friend? Forget scraping the bottom of the barrel – the barrel is no more. This is whatever has been fished from beneath it by a snuffling wet nose, chomped down, and promptly shat out on the carpet of cinema. Ruff stuff indeed.
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Published 17 Aug 2023
Did this film escape from some sort of early-00s comedy vault?
It says a lot when the high point of a film is a brief Dennis Quaid cameo.
Bad dog! Bad!