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Review: Strays (2023)

Strays (2023)

Directed by: Josh Greenbaum

Premise: A Border Terrier named Reggie (voice of Will Ferrell) is abandoned by his owner (Will Forte). Reggie befriends three other stray dogs (voices of Jamie Foxx, Isla Fisher, and Randall Park) and they set out to get revenge on Reggie’s owner.

What Works: In the 1990s there were a bunch of family friendly dog movies such as Beethoven and Homeward Bound and more recently A Dog’s Purpose and its sequel revisited that genre. Strays is a hard R send up of that kind of family friendly canine adventure. It has the same basic premise of a loyal dog finding his way home and like Homeward Bound the animals talk to each other through voiceover. Reggie is joined on his journey by three other dogs. The animal characters are distinct and likable and their friendship is convincing. The movie’s producers include Phil Lord and Chirstopher Miller and Strays has a similar sensibility as Lord and Miller’s 21 Jump Street films. Strays works when it is at its most audacious. It is consistently funny and there are a handful of scenes that are unexpected and give the audience something we haven’t seen before. There is an interesting tension running through Strays. The gimmick of the movie is the way it applies a vulgar and R-rated sense of humor to a traditionally milquetoast family friendly genre. But an undercurrent of darkness runs through the movie. Reggie’s owner is a terrible person and the movie is a revenge fantasy on behalf of mistreated pets.

What Doesn’t: Strays only runs ninety-three minutes but the filmmakers are strained to fill out the running time. It feels padded. Strays is fundamentally a road trip movie and it works through the standard buddies-on-a-trip formula. They get into crazy side quests and break up and eventually reconcile. There are sequences in Strays that are outrageous and funny but just as much of the movie is familiar and safe or simply unimaginative. The opening of Strays is essentially an R-rated version of The Secret Life of Pets but about all the filmmakers add is some foul language and sexual humor. There is not much wit or creativity. To its credit, Strays climaxes on a nasty subversion of the man’s best friend cliché but most of the movie lacks verve. It ultimately falls back on the same values of the heartwarming dog movies that Strays is supposedly satirizing.

Bottom Line: Strays is funny but it isn’t nearly as subversive or naughty as it could be. The movie has a few scenes that are audacious but overall its biggest innovation is adding vulgar language to a family friendly genre. Strays is less South Park and more “Terrance and Phillip.”

Episode: #963 (September 3, 2023)