Strays REVIEW – All Bark and No Bite

Paws for concern.


Dog movies are known for being sweet, schmaltzy and sometimes even emotionally manipulative. However, director Josh Greenbaum’s new canine comedy, Strays, is none of these things. Subverting genre clichés, Strays instead opts for gross-out comedy to entertain its audience, earning itself an R-rating in the process. This combination certainly makes for a curious cinematic crossbreed, yet its funny bones are nowhere to be found.

The film’s plot follows Reggie (Will Ferrell), a young Border Terrier who is abandoned by his neglectful owner, Doug (Will Forte). Left on the streets to fend for himself, it’s not long before he meets some other stray dogs, including Boston Terrier, Bug (Jamie Foxx). The street-wise pooch quickly introduces Reggie to some of his fellow four-legged friends: Australian Shepherd Maggie (Isla Fisher) and Great Dane Hunter (Randall Park). After some time on the streets together, Reggie decides to enact revenge on Doug.

Unfortunately, the journey to get to this point consists only of raucous, repetitive and ineffective crude humour, which leaves Strays doing little more than chasing its own tail. Screenwriter Dan Perrault makes the assumption that dogs continually swearing and talking about sex is a funny enough concept to stretch over a feature-length runtime. It isn’t, or at least where Perrault’s screenplay is concerned. Instead of writing jokes with actual punchlines he relies on a barrage of swear words and sex stories, wrongly presuming that comedy will ensue simply because they’re being delivered by dogs.

Perrault does flirt with some potentially amusing ideas that might give audiences a comical insight into the perspective of a dog. Whether it be their overreaction to fireworks, their vicious hatred for postal workers or their confusion over just why they never get any chocolate, there are hints of creativity to be found. However, Perrault fails to craft these notions into anything overly comedic or clever enough to fend off whatever lazy sex joke he has primed and ready to be barked out next. Failing this, the gross-out humour continues to be pushed to its disgusting limits, with one particularly rancid sequence set in a dog pound seriously stinking up the screen.

Evidently, the film is fully committed to its gross-out comedy and the same can be said for its cast, who all deliver suitably enthusiastic performances. This is especially the case for leading stars Ferrell and Foxx, although it does seem a little strange that these relatively young dogs are being voiced by grown men. It’s difficult to take their characters at face value as it’s the actors and not their characters that you hear. Nevertheless, they put their all into trying to sell Perrault’s one-note comedy, even if their efforts are redundant when dealing with a script this poor.

And for all its confidence (albeit misplaced) at being an R-rated dog movie, by the time Strays finally reaches its long-overdue conclusion, it’s actually succumbed to all the cutesy trademarks of the genre that it initially tried so hard to distance itself from. Attempting to evoke any kind of emotional response from its audience, after having just subjected them to a truly unfunny onslaught of sexual and scatalogical jokes, is the only laughable thing Strays manages. Otherwise, it’s about as funny as a dog’s final visit to the vets.

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Strays is a gross-out canine comedy that fails to produce any laughs, leaving it fit only for the doghouse.