September 21, 2023

It’s a dog’s life in Universal Pictures’ riotous comedy, Strays. But is the film a pedigree piece of entertainment, or is it more of a dog’s dinner?

Strays is an American comedy film directed by Josh Greenbaum. It features Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Will Forte, Isla Fisher, and Randall Park as the main leads (See what we did there?). From the look of the green-band trailer, you’d expect the film to be a charming family movie that everyone would lap up.  You’d be wrong. The film is a riotous adult comedy that certainly isn’t for kids or those who are easily offended.

The jokes you’d expect come at you thick and fast but also features scenes you wouldn’t expect. Strong language, adult content, and some humour that would offend your granny are contained within. But is the film a top-pedigree piece of entertainment? Or is it more of a dog’s dinner?

(from top left) Hunter (Randall Park), Maggie (Isla Fisher), Bug (Jamie Foxx) and Sheriff K-9s in Strays, directed by Josh Greenbaum.

PREMISE

When a gullible Border Terrier named Reggie (Will Ferrell) is abandoned on the streets by his selfish and ruthless owner Doug (Will Forte), an animal-hating drug addict who never wanted him, he teams up with other strays including a street-wise Boston Terrier named Bug (Jamie Foxx), an Australian Shepherd named Maggie (Isla Fisher), and a therapy Great Dane named Hunter (Randall Park) to get revenge on Doug.


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THOUGHTS

I haven’t laughed so much at a movie for a long time! The film is completely hilarious from start to finish. The movie starts so innocently, drawing us into a false sense of security. That comfort blanket is pulled out from under us in less than a minute. Just when we think that this may not be the film for us, the humour hits us right between the eyes. Strong language and some very adult scenes knock the wind from us as we find ourselves almost crying with laughter. I mean, come on. When the voice of Will Ferrell makes us feel safe and warm, the adults destroy that feeling. When a film has a drug-taking abusive dog owner named Doug verbally berating his sweet fur baby, and the dog not knowing he’s being verbally abused, you can go either way with your feelings.

These opening scenes set the tone for the rest of the film. We feel sorry for Reggie from these opening scenes. But we also can’t help but laugh at what he sees and what he hears. Doug is an extremely unlikeable person from the second he first appears. And is the kind of pet owner we completely despise. But he is a character that sets up the remainder of the film and the events we witness during the 93-minute run time. By the time we get to the climax, which we can see coming a mile away, we are ready for Reggie to wreak his ultimate revenge. And when it comes, we have to hold our sides together or else they will burst. But getting there gives us something that not only makes us cry with laughter but also hits us in the feels.

STRAYS, directed by Josh Greenbaum

THE HUMAN ELEMENT

The film, despite all the hilarious nature of it, also features a strong heart that the audience wouldn’t expect. With all the foul language, adult scenes, and intentional laughter, the film makes us think. Do our pets look at us and think about us this way in reality? With our actions, are we hurting or upsetting them unintentionally? And do we need them more than they need us? That’s a question that we as humans can’t answer. And it is also something that we will never find the answer to. My view is that the relationship between a human and a dog is a mutual thing. They rely on us while they rely on us. Apart from Doug, a social media influencer that doesn’t deserve to even own a pet, and a flashback scene featuring Bug, the humans here are loving.

(from left) Reggie (Will Ferrell) and Doug (Will Forte) in Strays, directed by Josh Greenbaum.

But the other side of that coin is also shown. Doug is someone that we see and despise. The female social media influencer is someone we want to slap around the face for what she does to Maggie, her first dog that she’s replaced with the current must-own breed, negating Maggie in the process. There is too much of that nowadays. A dog isn’t a fashion accessory, it is an animal that loves us, needs us and cherishes us.  As a dog owner myself, these people, although comedy relief, represent owners that I detest with a vengeance. But that’s the point of their existence in the film. Thankfully, by the end credits, they have been firmly put in their place.

(from left) Doug’s Girlfriend (Jade Marie Fernandez), Reggie (Will Ferrell) and Doug (Will Forte)
in Strays, directed by Josh Greenbaum.

THE VOCAL CAST

The vocal cast is superb. Will Ferrell as Reggie starts off as a kind, loyal loving pet that only wants to be with a play with his owner. His inner thoughts grab our hearts from the start. But gradually throughout the film, Reggie turns from a loving dog into a foul-mouthed animal who is set on revenge. Ferrell’s tones endear us towards Reggie, making us feel safe at every turn, wishing that he can get his happy ending. Jamie Foxx as Bug is hilarious. From the start, his vocal performance has us almost rolling on the floor. Bug’s language, inner thoughts, and thoughts on everything, in general, are the highlights of the movie. And Bug’s obsession with an old discarded couch has us grabbing tissues to wipe the tears we shed laughing away. All I’ll say is if you haven’t scotch-guarded your couch’s yet, you will do after the film ends!

(from left) Bug (Jamie Foxx) and Reggie (Will Ferrell) in Strays, directed by Josh Greenbaum.

ISLA FISHER

Isla Fisher as Maggie is the vocal performance we don’t expect. She always comes across as kind, considerate, and without a bad bone in her body. After this movie, you’ll think twice about her. Maggie is such a cute animal that you’d never expect the things that come out of her mouth. With her Australian accent and the foul language and sexual references that she utters, Isla Fisher destroys her wholesome image completely. And I loved it. Her love for Hunter is evident from the very start, making us hope that the pair will hook up by the end credits. Yes, I’m talking about two dogs getting it on. And no, I didn’t ever expect to have to utter that! Isla Fisher is in on the joke from minute one and runs with it to hilariously brilliant effect.

RANDALL PARK

Randall Park as Hunter is also superb. When we first meet Hunter, he is a rescue dog that has no confidence. He wears a plastic collar around his neck which is used and referred to great comic effect. He is a soft character that won’t argue back at another dog that constantly offends and belittles him. But he too will come into his own. Randall Park gives a nice, comforting vocal performance as Hunter. But suddenly, Hunter turns into a foul-mouthed, sexually charged animal which has us in fits. A certain scene inside a rescue centre has to be seen to be believed. But the audience will be screaming with laughter at the scene and its ending.

Reggie (Will Ferrell) in Strays, directed by Josh Greenbaum.

THE WRITING

The screenplay by Dan Perrault is brilliant. He takes every dog pun he can think of and uses them as we can expect. But he also rips up the rule book and creates something that knows what it is, how preposterous it sounds and runs with it. And at every turn, it works. He also injects some true heart into the screenplay. It isn’t all swearing, drug-taking and poop. The film also contains a message for the audience about treating our fur babies right. It also shows how a dog doesn’t understand when it’s done wrong. And with the Bug flashback scene manages to make us develop a lump in our throat, for us to show a little bit more compassion and understanding at some of the things a dog may do.

It is things like this that make us think. Why is our best friend behaving the way they are? For what reason did they do it? And should we show more understanding to them at times like this? It all comes down to the feelings and decisions of the audience. It will divide opinions, that is for sure. I know my feelings on the subject itself that is raised. I couldn’t do it or allow it to happen to my dog, despite what protests anyone would make. But the addition of this subject makes the screenplay stand out. Suddenly, we are not laughing. We find ourselves feeling tearful and upset. It is that which makes the movie as good as it is. But don’t worry, normal service is resumed shortly after the scene.

Cathy (Tinashe Kajese) and sheriff K-9s with Reggie (Will Ferrell, center) and Maggie (Isla Fisher, right) in Strays, directed by Josh Greenbaum.

FINAL THOUGHTS

You won’t find a comedy movie like this anywhere else this summer. It is puerile, and juvenile at times, and will offend some of the audience. But it is quite simply, one of the funniest films I’ve seen for a long time. By the final credits, my sides were aching from laughing so much. This is like a canine version of all those comedies you see at the movies or straight to DVD about teenagers growing up and their raging hormones. The premise isn’t that original, to be honest. But the way it unfolds, and has us laughing uncontrollably at times makes the film something that we can rewatch time and again. Certain scenes, like the four dogs eating magic mushrooms in a forest and the trip they experience, will have the audience in danger of losing their voices through laughing.

(from left) Bug (Jamie Foxx), Reggie (Will Ferrell), Maggie (Isla Fisher), and Hunter (Randall Park) in Strays, directed by Josh Greenbaum.

BARKING MAD FUN

Some of what the movie contains is so unexpected that we can’t believe what we are watching. At times, we can see what is coming but it is the anticipation of it actually happening in front of us that makes it so funny. The use of the music in the film is inspired, fitting proceedings so well that we want to want to sing along. And with an unexpectedly weird but hilarious cameo from Dennis Quaid and his dialogue makes the film a winner from start to finish. It won’t win any awards from the pretentious ceremonies but it will win the hearts and minds of the audience. High art this isn’t but something designed to give the audience a really fun time at the movies. And it hits the mark in every way. It is barking mad fun that you won’t want to bury in the garden afterwards.

Strays is released by Universal Pictures and is in cinemas on August 17th in the UK, and August 18th in the USA.

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