Review: Buddy Comedy Strays Puts Crude Humor and a Surprising Bit of Heart into a Dog’s Tale

Sometimes you can just feel that dogs want to be your best friend in the world, and other times, you can simply look them in the eyes and know they want to rip your dick off. That’s the basic concept of Strays, the latest from the increasingly reliable director Josh Greenbaum (Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar, and the fantastic doc about one-time James Bond actor George Lazenby, Becoming Bond). The story begins with an innocent and hopelessly optimistic border terrier named Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell), who believes that his scumbag owner Doug (Will Forte) is his closest buddy. In fact Doug is attempting to get rid of Reggie by playing a version of fetch where Doug throws a tennis ball miles away from home and somehow Reggie keeps finding his way back into Doug’s world of smoking pot and relentless masturbation.

Finally, Doug drives Reggie three hours away, to an unnamed city, and abandons the poor little guy, where Reggie comes across a trio of other dogs, including a helpful but potty-mouthed Boston terrier named Bug (Jamie Foxx), a collie named Maggie (Isla Fisher), and former police dog with a cone around his neck named Hunter (Randall Park). After convincing Reggie that his owner doesn’t love him, Reggie decides that the only course of action is to return home and destroy the one thing that Doug loves more than anything: his penis. He plans to rip it right off, and his new friends not only agree with the sentiment, but they accompany him on his long and life-changing journey.

The most important thing you must understand about Strays is that it doesn’t give a damn if it offends you, especially if you are uneasy about the sex lives, genitalia, bathroom habits, and eating routines of dogs. If you have any love for rabbits, stay far away from Strays—don’t say I didn’t warn you. The humor is vulgar, but more to the point, it’s smart, funny and warmhearted. You may not want to adopt these animals, but you’d drink a beer with them (yes, the dogs drink beer in this movie). The observations about dog behavior ar sharp (courtesy of screenwriter Dan Perrault), and director Greenbaum injects so much genuine emotion into this story about a collection of outcasts who become best friends, that you almost can’t resist the pull of this story.

If you’re easily offended by bad words and potty humor, don’t go see this movie and spare the internet your derision and clutching-your-pearls morality judgments. Yes, the language is crude, but the movie is genuinely funny and charming. Throw in a couple other voice appearances by the likes or Rob Riggle, Josh Gad, Greta Lee and Sophia Vergara, as well as actual human appearances by Brett Gelman (in a scene that tests the limits of the grotesque) and a surprise bird-watching celebrity cameo, and you have a film that examines toxic relationships from a new perspective and gives us one dog’s example of how to exit one. In a cinematic world where the funniest comedies of the year are all rated R (No Hard Feelings, Joy Ride and, of course, 80 For Brady), feel free to add Strays to that prestigious list.

The film is now in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.