Strays (2023) Film Review, a movie directed by Josh Greenbaum, written by Dan Perrault and starring Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Isla Fisher, Randall Park, Will Forte, Brett Gelman, Rob Riggle, Josh Gad, Sofia Vergara, Greta Lee, Jimmy Tatro, Harvey Guillen, Jack De Sanz, Phil Morris, David Herman, Jaquita Ta’le and Charity Cervantes.
Yes, the new talking dog comedy, Strays, is directed by Josh Greenbaum which would lead one to believe it’s going to be a smart and terrific new comedy. Greenbaum stunned the movie world with his laugh-out-loud funny Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar back in 2021. With Strays, Greenbaum has taken a step back a bit because the movie, written by Dan Perrault, becomes way too over-the-top to work efficiently as a comedy. That’s not to say it doesn’t work at all because it actually does for a lot of its running time. However, the movie gets too caught up in its mean-spirited nature with a climax that is ultimately too violent for the material that precedes it.
Will Ferrell is the voice of Reggie, a sweet small dog whose abusive owner Doug (Will Forte) treats him with no respect whatsoever. Doug throws a tennis ball and Reggie goes after it thinking that Doug is playing a game with him but he’s not. Doug wants Reggie gone because Reggie found a pair of underpants that belonged to a girl who Doug was cheating on his girlfriend with. Poor Reggie is kind and loving but Doug is a jerk and doesn’t care about his pet. When Doug takes Reggie so far away from their home and abandons him, Reggie gets lost. Reggie soon encounters two large dogs who are cruel and scary but a wild and crazy small dog named Bug (voiced by Jamie Foxx) saves the day and starts to teach Reggie the ropes regarding what it’s like to be a stray dog.
There are some big laughs early on. Bug takes Reggie to a dog park where he introduces Reggie to two bigger dog friends of his- Hunter (Randall Park’s voice) and Maggie (voiced with a charming accent by Isla Fisher). When Reggie finally understands that Doug was abusing him and didn’t care about him, Reggie vows to bite Doug’s private part off as a means of revenge. One funny scene has the doggies teaming up to get pizza scraps while another has them fleeing some fireworks as they think the world is blowing up around them. Anyone who has a dog who hates fireworks will find this bit very funny.
More laughs ensue as the dogs bond by peeing on each other– a gross but hilarious scene that does push the envelope a little far but in a good way. It’s the ending of the movie that really steers this movie off track although there are scenes before it that also play uglier than was anticipated. When the dogs get high on “mushrooms” and think they’re roughing up stuffed animals, they’re not and that’s all I’ll say. It’s more uncalled for than funny when the audience discovers what happened.
Greenbaum takes big risks with Strays. From the endless profanity to scenes of dogs humping things, the movie deserves at least a little credit for not playing it safe. It’s funny to see Ferrell’s dog character, Reggie, change from a good-hearted fool to a more street-wise animal with real friends by the movie’s conclusion. The dogs get along well together as characters and the voices by Park and Fisher are almost just as funny as Ferrell and Fox.
It’s unfortunate that I must speak about the ending but it’s pivotal to understand why Strays doesn’t work as well as it should. Reggie finally makes it back to Doug who’s a flat out loser who is moving out because he can’t afford the rent and has no girlfriend. Reggie has promised the whole movie he will bite Doug’s di-k off. That’s where a better movie would have taken the high road but because this is the type of wild comedy where anything goes, Greenbaum allows the film to take a turn it probably shouldn’t have taken. Why? Teenagers will see this movie and may be turned off by the threat of violence and the actual violence that occurs. Sure, the movie is rated “R” but teenagers will find a way to see it. They will want to be entertained by the movie and not disturbed. Unfortunately, although violence against animals is a horrible thing, things shouldn’t feel so threatening in a summer comedy. There are too many go-for-broke scenes in Strays and they only work in spurts. Some don’t work at all. I wish the movie had tried to play it just a tad safer at the end.
Yet, there are good things about Strays. Ferrell is remarkable at bringing the character of Reggie to life and Ferrell makes the dog so very likable throughout the movie. Fox is raunchy and fun, Fisher is sassy and classy and Park gets moments to shine as well. I liked the idea of the dogs bonding and doing the goofy things that dogs do, however exaggerated they may be on screen. Why did the movie have to be so mean, though? Yes, Doug is a complete jerk and total waste but two wrongs don’t make a right. You know?
Strays is still a movie with a slew of good scenes that mostly suffers because Greenbaum’s 2021 movie, Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar was so great. Like many directors who do a near-perfect movie, Greenbaum had too much freedom to do whatever he wanted with his follow-up film, Strays, and although I liked Ferrell a whole lot and the dogs are cute, it’s hard to get over the shocking scenes towards the end. I’m on the fence about recommending it but you’ll certainly know if this movie is for you from viewing the trailers beforehand.
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