Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | August 17th, 2023
Strays (Josh Greenbaum, 2023) 1½ out of 4 stars.
It would be false to claim that Strays—a new CGI-enhanced film about stray dogs from director Josh Greenbaum (Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar) and writer Dan Perrault (Netflix’s American Vandal series)—has no redeeming value. There are jokes that land and sentiments that move in various parts, scattered throughout. Unfortunately, there’s also quite a bit of cinematic muck in between.
The thrust of the narrative goes as follows. Scrappy terrier Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell, Downhill) interprets all attempts by his human, Doug (Will Forte, Extra Ordinary), to get rid of him as, instead, exciting games, which he always wins by finding his way home. Doug has his (horribly selfish) reasons for wanting to dump Reggie (who thinks his name is “shitball,” or something like that), courtesy of a quick prologue, but to his faithful canine companion he is the best dad in the world.
Until Doug tires of losing the “game” and drives far away, to the city, to deposit Reggie in a foreboding urban landscape. There, our hero encounters other strays (he is in denial that that is what he has now become), who gradually convince him to give up all hope of rescue and join their ranks. Before he can do that, however, he must exact revenge on Doug, by once again heading home, where he plans to bite Doug’s penis off.
All of that you could have gathered from watching the trailer, one of those that basically lays out the entire movie for you. You also get a sense from it that some additional high-powered voice talent has been added to the mix, including folks like Isla Fisher (Blithe Spirit), Jamie Foxx (Project Power), and Randall Park (Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania). Mostly anyone could have played the parts, as not much personality shines through for anyone.
Still, there’s a lot of effort on display, primarily in the form of scatological humor and tired clichés about dog behavior. Sadly for all involved, this is not the first movie about a group of animals on a mission, so this is well-trod territory. Last year’s DC League of Super-Pets, with which Strays shares some conceptual DNA, was much funnier and poignant (with virtually none of the clumsy crudeness). As if to remind us of the comparison, there’s even a plot point here that directly recalls that earlier film. Unwise.
Nevertheless, as I mentioned at the start, not all is ruin. Much to my surprise, I fought back a mild tear or two towards the end, but then I’m a sucker for dogs finding happiness. I also did laugh upon occasion, though not nearly enough. None of it is particularly novel, and there are better antecedents to revisit rather than watching this. Time to call the SPCA.