Studios learned long ago that you can’t go wrong with movies featuring talking babies or talking dogs. For some reason, audiences will never get enough of giving them adult mouths with which to spout very juvenile things. For the most part this is done with family-friendly goals, but not so much Strays, a filthy-mouthed canine comedy that features the lowbrow hat trick: potty humor, stoner humor, and dick jokes.
This is both a good and bad thing. Chances are you already know if a film like Strays is for you just by the promos, which promises dogs humping things, peeing on things, and occasionally getting high on wild mushrooms. At least filmmaker Josh Greenbaum (of Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar fame) and American Vandal writer Dan Perrault know the four-legged lineage in which their story exists. We’ve all grown up on movies and TV shows featuring heroic canines, Man’s Best Friend, who go on epic journeys to be reunited with their owners, or to save the day at the last possible second. Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, Benji, these dogs are iconic for a reason. Well, that’s great and all, but have any of them ever humped a dirty couch? Or bitten a man’s penis off? Pfft! Losers.
That’s the plot of Strays in a doggie bowl. Will Ferrell voices Reggie, a naive Border Collie who doesn’t seem to get that his douchebag owner Doug (Will Forte) doesn’t actually love him. He only kept him as a pet to hurt his ex-girlfriend who loved Reggie dearly. And now that she’s gone, Doug’s a prime candidate for animal cruelty charges. Playing a sick game of “Fetch, Fuck!!” (the expletive when Reggie succeeds) Doug abandons the dog where he can never find his way back home, leaving him lost on an unknown street.
The streets nearly swallow up poor domesticated Reggie, until he meets a street smart Terrier named Bug (Jamie Foxx), who is loving life as a stray. Hey, he can pee on anything he wants (which means he owns it), hump anything he wants (such as a filthy couch voiced by Sofia Vergara), and he doesn’t have to put up with trash humans like Doug. Not that Reggie believes his beloved Doug is such a bad guy. It takes some convincing, and a little help from a posh Australian Shepherd named Maggie (Isla Fisher) and Hunter (Randall Park), an anxious therapy Great Dane sporting one of those unfortunate cones around his head.
Imagine Disney’s The Incredible Journey if it was written by veterinary students on an acid trip. Finally becoming hip to the code of the streets, and to Doug’s true nature, Reggie and his newfound crew go on their own journey…to bite off the one thing Doug cares about most; his penis. Cue up a scene of Forte shaving his pubic hair that you’ll wish you’d never had to endure.
Of course, this trek is fraught with dangerous animal encounters; like hungry hawks, bullying mutts, and squirrels. A trip to a nearby carnival to fetch some eats turns into a horror movie when fireworks start going off. Suddenly turning into the doggy version of Pineapple Express, a meal of mysterious mushrooms triggers a psychedelic head trip that features some fun shifts in style, from animation to puppetry.
There’s nothing at all wholesome about Strays. The F-bombs and pee flow freely, but they’re nothing compared to the amount of literal dog crap on display. A stint in the kennel leads to a poop bonanza that leaves poor Brett Gelman looking like the shit monster from Dogma. It’s a scene, man.
Of course, this type of extreme humor has its limits, and Strays hits it pretty quickly which is when the film starts to grow tiresome. You’ll hope for more of the subversive insights and emotional notes that it occasionally brings. There’s a great joke mocking movies that feature dog narrators telling their own stories. And you’ll genuinely root for Reggie to get some payback, because if there’s one thing we all can agree on is that owners like Doug deserve the worst. Each of the dogs has their own issue to overcome, whether it be a lack of self-confidence, past abuse, fear of being replaced, and even PTSD. None of this is particularly deep, mind you, and they feel odd when placed next to a dog eating another’s vomit.
But hey, who goes to Strays for emotional depth, anyway? At least it doesn’t just roll over and play dead. Humans eff around, and they quickly find out that Man’s Best Friend has a pretty sick sense of humor.
Strays opens in theaters on August 18th.