Shortly before leaving to see Strays, I received word from my sister that her dog had taken a turn for the worse. You probably weren’t expecting this review to start on such a grim note. Even more unexpected, Strays proved to be a therapeutic experience for me. Part of that’s due to its canine cast. Above all else, it’s because laughter is the best remedy for grief. For those who recently said goodbye to a furry friend, Strays may provide a much-needed pick-me-up. For everyone else, there’s still plenty of value in this hard-R version of Homeward Bound. And you thought a PG-13 Barbie movie was surreal.
Will Ferrell brings his signature puppy dog charm to a puppy dog called Reggie. His owner Doug (Will Forte) has a few other four-lettered words for him. After attempting to abandon Reggie multiple times, Doug ditches him in the big city. Reggie remains clueless, thinking this is just an intense game of fetch. The oblivious pup begins to understand what a rat bastard his master is upon meeting a streetwise dog named Bug (Jamie Foxx). Reggie is also introduced to an Australian Shepherd named Maggie (Isla Fisher) and a cone-headed Great Dane named Hunter (Randall Park). As his new friends open Reggie’s eyes to how cruel Doug was, he develops a new purpose.
On paper, Strays is a classic story about a dog trying to get home to his owner. Instead of a heartfelt reunion, though, Reggie’s goal is to bite Doug’s dick off. That might sound extreme, but if you spent less than a minute with Doug, you’d know he has this coming. This guy makes the clown from Air Bud and the evil vet from Beethoven look like saints, although they’re overdue for neutering as well. Funny to think that in MacGruber, Will Forte’s goal was to cut off the villain’s dick and shove it in his mouth. Now a dog is gunning to do the same to him.
Needless to say, this isn’t A Dog’s Purpose, but Strays does have more than one hilarious nod to that sappy flick. You wouldn’t think that such a silly premise could sustain a 93-minute runtime. Although the novelty does wear thin after a while, Strays comes from comedy masters who know how to spin the ridiculous into gold. It was produced by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the poster boys for seemingly doomed-to-fail projects. Writer Dan Perrault co-created the criminally underrated true crime mockumentary American Vandal. Director Josh Greenbaum brought us the equally underappreciated Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar. Strays is just the right balance of stupid and smart, which isn’t surprising given this lineup.
In addition to being an effective comedy about animals, friendship, and vengeance, Strays works as a breakup movie. Listening to Reggie talk about his toxic relationship with Doug, viewers are bound to reflect on their dating history. It goes to show that dogs aren’t much different than humans, especially considering how often people go back to abusive partners. Reggie’s incredible journey is one of self-love, learning that he doesn’t need Doug to make him complete. If Doug loses his penis in the process, all the more satisfying.
Strays might not be in the same league as Joy Ride. As inspired as many jokes are, others go for the predictable punchline. The plot also succumbs to a standard formula with the inevitable third act falling out between the characters. Ticks aside, you can probably tell from the premise whether or not the film will be for you. For me, it was the right movie at the right time. Of course, is there ever a wrong time for foul-mouthed animals? I think not.