Border terrier Reggie (voice of Will Ferrell) is such a naïve optimist he thinks his loser owner Doug’s (Will Forte) efforts to abandon him are elaborate games of fetch. But when Doug finally drives three hours into the city, Reggie will need help finding his way home. It will be street smart Boston terrier Bug (voice of Jamie Foxx) that tries to convince Reggie Doug is no good guy and that trip home turns into a plot to get revenge in “Strays.”
Laura's Review: C+
If you think animal abuse, dogs humping inanimate objects and piles of poo are funny, have I got a movie for you! That said, this R-rated twist on Disney’s "Homeward Bound" does have a few funny moments (therapy dog Great Dane Hunter (voice of Randall Park) is so anxious he refuses to allow his cone to be removed) and animal trainer Mark Forbes ("Cruella"), special effects artists and director Josh Greenbaum ("Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar") all deserve praise for getting realistic performances from real dogs, often with many in the same shot.
Doug is so awful, that when his girlfriend breaks up with him he refuses to give her her dog out of spite, even though he cannot stand the cheerful little creature and we’ll spend about the first ten minutes of the movie watching Reggie being treated horribly. When he’s dumped in a sinister looking city lot in the rain, Reggie takes comfort in his tennis ball but frets that Doug’s given him an awfully big challenge in this latest round of what he calls ‘fetch and f*&^,’ the 4-letter word what he always hears when he returns the ball.
When he’s threatened by a Rottweiler and a Doberman, Reggie tries to be friendly, but he’s saved just in the nick of time by Bug, the streetwise terrier using the tried and true method of ‘acting crazy.’ Bug hates humans and tries to convince Reggie that being a stray, which he tries to convince Reggie is what he is now, is the best way to live. His evidence? An old, filthy couch on the sidewalk which he habitually humps.
Bug takes Reggie to the park and introduces him to Hunter and Australian shepherd Maggie (voice of Isla Fisher), currently out of favor with her owner due to the acquisition of a pocketbook pup. After a group hump of lawn ornaments, these three will accompany Reggie on his long voyage home, Reggie’s motivation gradually turning into revenge as the truth begins to dawn on him. Along the way, they’ll be terrified by fireworks at an amusement park (where one ‘joke’ involves another dog watching the master he acknowledges is a serial killer picking up a woman), have a run-in with an eagle, trip on magic mushrooms and massacre a bunch of bunnies and get turned in to animal control while trying to assist a German Shepherd find a missing Girl Scout. At least that latter adventure eventually turns into an emotionally fitting resolution for Bug, whose back story provides a conflicted reason for his hatred of people, but be forewarned that when the four catch up with Doug, he’ll arm himself with a baseball bat.
Writer Dan Perrault (TV's 'Players') was the genesis of the film and although he and producers claim to have avoided showing cruel or abusive behavior on screen, this critic thinks they crossed that line and animal lovers should beware. Yes, humor is subjective, and “Strays” is decidedly of the lowbrow variety, but it is also the type of film that thinks Dennis Quaid showing up as himself as a bird watcher should be funny. It’s a stretch. The film works better when it dips into character-driven humor, like Hunter’s fears and his and Maggie’s obvious-to-everyone-but-them’s mutual attraction. The vocal roles are all well cast, Parks a standout, with additional dogs voiced by “Frozen’s” Josh Gad and ‘What We Do in the Shadows’’ Harvey Guillen. Brett Gellman has the unenviable role of an animal control officer who faces a dog turd rebellion.
The craft behind “Strays” is noteworthy, but how you feel about its humor will be dependent upon your tolerance for animals (and humans) being endangered and all things scatological.
Universal Pictures releases "Strays" in theaters on 8/18/23.