Strays Makes For a Better Trailer Than a Film

Image: Courtesy of Universal Pictures.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, films like Strays might not exist.

This might be the most challenging review I’ve ever had to write. No, Strays  is not a movie that has shaken me to my core because of its themes and message. No, this is not a defining piece of media that will be discussed for years. And no, there are no hot-button issues or controversies surrounding this film that might make a critical evaluation difficult.

Strays is a difficult movie to review because, well, it barely meets the qualifications of being a movie. It felt like watching a never-ending TikTok—which is probably the best way to describe this “movie.” The concept of dogs dropping F-bombs would make for a very funny 60-120-second clip, but there is not enough meat on the bone (this will be the first of many dog-related puns in this review) to keep a 90-minute movie afloat. 

Simply put, Strays is all bark and no bite—literally and figuratively. 

Doug (Will Forte), wearing a red trucker hat, drives his pick-up truck with Reggie loose in the open trunk as they play "fetch and f—k."
Reggie (Will Ferrell) and Doug (Will Forte) in Strays. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Border Terrier Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell) lives with his owner Doug (Will Forte), who might be the world’s worst person. He treats Reggie horribly, while gullible Reggie registers Doug’s treatment as tender love and care. One day while playing “fetch and f*ck”—a game in which Doug drives Reggie many miles away, abandons him, and Reggie miraculously finds his way back to which Doug exclaims, “f*ck!”—Reggie is unable to find his way back home and meets fellow stray, Bug (voiced by Jamie Foxx). 

With the help of Bug and two other dogs, Maggie (voiced by Isla Fisher) and Hunter (Randall Park), Reggie learns that Doug’s love is actually abuse and the four canines go on a journey back to Doug’s house for revenge: biting Doug’s penis off. 

My biggest takeaway from Strays is I wish Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Isla Fisher, and Randall Park did a real comedy together. Even though studio comedies have been largely extinct for the past 10-12 years, they seem to be coming back with the likes of No Hard Feelings, Joy Ride, and Theater Camp. Even Barbie, which has a lot more going on, is a big-budget comedy in some ways. The quad clearly has chemistry with each other and, given a good script and strong direction, the potential would be limitless. 

Reggie standing up next to a garden gnome with a beard and large, pointy green cap.
Reggie (Will Ferrell) getting close to a garden gnome. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures.

After the boom of the studio comedy in the 2000s and early aughts, there had to be a twist with every comedy. Just being a true blue comedy wasn’t enough. These movies were dark comedies or had some weird hook for the audience. Director Josh Greenbaum’s last two films before Strays were comedies but far away from the Apatow/McKay comedies we all know and love. Good Boys and Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar, while exponentially funnier than Strays, exist because of their outlandish concept—sixth graders being raunchy & Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo being weird old ladies—rather than cast chemistry, genuinely witty dialogue, and fun situational comedy. 

The success of No Hard Feelings should show there’s no need for a gimmick anymore. Just let these very funny humans do what they’re good at—being funny humans! It’s worse when the gimmick just doesn’t work. Five minutes into the movie, the wackiness of dogs being randy became redundant and unfunny. It doesn’t help the trailer of the film probably had all the good jokes and, by the time I saw them on the big screen, I could recite those lines in my sleep. 

There’s a 2019 The Lion King problem with this movie in that the CGI of the dogs talking isn’t well done. I’m not blaming the hard-working visual effects artists involved with this film; I just don’t think we have the technology to make animals talking look good yet. They aren’t emoting and the dialogue delivery is downright awkward. So much of comedy depends on the actor’s expressions and their line readings—all of that is lost in this “ruff” movie. 

Bug is in the talons of a flying eagle during the day and Reggie leaps in the air to save his best friend.
Reggie attempts to save Bug from an eagle. Image: courtesy of Universal Pictures.

There are a few things that might have you howling in Strays. It doesn’t matter how you use Jamie Foxx, even voicing a Boston Terrier he’s energetic and is responsible for the few laughs in the movie. Randall Park’s dog being unable to howl and forced to literally say the word, “howl” did get a chuckle out of me. But, these are the only funny parts in this doggone movie. 

Strays is bound to be some 14 or 15-year-olds’ favorite movie because that’s who this movie is targeted toward. This is not to say every comedy needs to be high-browed, but even the silliest comedies from 2000-2013 have more nuance and, honestly, a plot. There’s not much more to say about Strays except that it would have made an adequate SNL skit or a hilarious I Think You Should Leave (ITYSL) sketch. Anything Tim Robinson does with a dog in three seasons of ITYSL is 100 times funnier than Strays.

If you respect the studio comedy film, paw-lease skip Strays.

Written by Aqib Rasheed

AQIB RASHEED is a staff writer at Film Obsessive. Member of the Chicago Indie Critics and served as the Resident Film Critic for the Loyola Phoenix from 2021-2022. An admirer of movies, old and new, from all over the world. President of the Al Pacino and David Fincher fan clubs.

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