Strays is a basic high-concept comedy with an amusing premise and a hilarious trailer. It is the live-action story of a group of dogs, all voiced by funny people, who embark on an epic quest to get revenge on one of their owners. The idea of four cute canines starring in what amounts to a raunchy road trip movie is promising. Unfortunately, it turns out that all the good stuff is in the trailer. The rest of the movie is just those same few gags stretched to feature length. It is one of those projects that confuses vulgarity for humor. There is nothing inherently funny about dogs being digitally made to talk about humping, bodily functions and genitals. Based on how uncreative it is, the makers of Strays seem to disagree with that sentiment.
Reggie lives a happy life with his abusive owner, Doug. Reggie longs to be called a good boy, but Doug abandons him several towns over. Upon realizing that Doug doesn’t love him, Reggie teams up with some friendly dogs and begins a journey to find his way back to Doug and rip off his penis.
If that sounds funny, well, I thought so, too. The goofiness of these animals, who sound like Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, etc., bumbling their way toward a ridiculous goal is so over-the-top that it definitely had me laughing when I first heard it. Strays (a merciful 86 minutes, plus a mid-credit scene) beats that gag into the ground real fast. It is immediately clear that its approach to humor is “if it’s funny once, it’ll be hysterical fifty times!” Apply that to stray dog Bug’s love of humping, therapy dog Hunter’s huge penis and so much poop/pee and you have yourself a feature. A very tedious feature.
The humping was funny the first time, when it was prominently placed in the preview. Same with the jokes concerning Reggie’s naivete when it comes to the real world. However, the personalities come from the jokes, a style that never works. There are so few ideas in this screenplay, so it becomes an hour-and-a-half of the same handful of things over and over again. Within twenty minutes, I could tell there was only enough substance for a two-and-a-half-minute trailer. That is some impressive work by the editor because the full movie is an unfunny slog.
This is a definite case of talented people coming together and creating a big miss. They are funny, so there were probably a lot of laughs while the actors were recording the dialogue, which tricked them into thinking they really had something. The director is Josh Greenbaum, who made the amusingly silly Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar. Reggie is voiced by Will Ferrell, who has done good voice work in The Lego Movie and Megamind. Bug is Jamie Foxx, who was great as the lead in Pixar’s Soul. Add to them Randall Park as Hunter, Isla Fisher as their other friend Maggie and Will Forte as the detestable Doug, plus a bunch of cameos. Even skilled comic talent can be limited by poor material.
The first time Doug insults Reggie as the adorable pup wags his tail happily, I laughed. Not so much all the other times. If Strays sounds like something you’d enjoy, do yourself a favor, watch the trailer, think about what could have been, and then go see a different movie instead.
1½ out of 5
Will Ferrell as voice of Reggie
Jamie Foxx as voice of Bug
Randall Park as voice of Hunter
Isla Fisher as voice of Maggie
Will Forte as Doug
Directed by Josh Greenbaum
Written by Dan Perrault