R-rated caper is fun but ‘unsurprising’

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The live-action canine caper with characters voiced by Will Ferrell and Jamie Foxx is “unsurprising” but “perfectly pleasant”, writes Caryn James.

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A mangy but adorable border terrier with the voice of Will Ferrell starts Strays by declaring his sunny view of the world. “Today is going to be the best day ever!” he says excitedly, because “Every day is the best day ever!” It’s a line strangely similar to what Barbie says at the opening of her film, which might be the only point of comparison between that clever, original blockbuster and this perfectly pleasant but too-often unsurprising dog comedy.

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Pleasant might sound odd for an R-rated film that seems to have as many unprintable words as there are animals on screen, but it’s a rule of dog movies that there has to be a heart-warming streak. Fortunately, Ferrell and Jamie Foxx, the voice of a Boston terrier named Bug who teaches the innocent Reggie the ways of street life, keep the sentimentality to a minimum and boost the film above a screenplay that isn’t quite sharp enough. If you’ve watched the promising, comic trailer for Strays, you have the idea and seen maybe two-thirds of the funniest bits.

The live-action film uses trained dogs enhanced with special effects, with the occasional human on screen. Will Forte plays Doug, Reggie’s owner, a loser stoner who kept the dog out of spite when his girlfriend left him. Doug keeps trying to lose Reggie, dropping him off far away, but Reggie believes it’s a game they’re playing, which he wins by coming back. Ferrell is perfect for the role, bringing the same sweet, guileless enthusiasm he showed in Elf, and he’s so shrewd an actor that he’s actually touching when Reggie says, “I really just want to be home.”

When Doug finally drops Reggie in a mean alley, he meets the scrappy Bug, who insists that being a stray is the only way to live. You’re free of pesky humans, and can have sex with anything you want, including a random couch left on the street. Foxx sounds a lot as though he’s channelling Samuel L Jackson here, which isn’t a bad thing. Between the crude language and the streetwise delivery, it’s almost as if Quentin Tarantino had made a dog movie. In fact, the director is Josh Greenbaum, who did Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar and who keeps the action moving swiftly. 

When Bug finally convinces Reggie that Doug does not love him, Reggie decides to make his way back and bite off the one thing Doug loves the most, his penis. It’s funnier when Ferrell says it. And technically, that means Strays qualifies as a revenge movie.

Strays

Director: Josh Greenbaum

Cast: Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Isla Fisher, Will Forte

Run time: 1hr 33m

Release date: 18 August

Bug goes along on the trek, and so do two other friends. Randall Park is the voice of Hunter, a gentle great Dane who flunked out of the police academy and now works as a therapy dog at a facility for seniors. Maggie is a smart Australian shepherd with the voice and Australian accent of Isla Fisher. Their journey back to Doug’s is a kind of Homeward Bound with a few funny adventures not in the trailer, including an appearance by Josh Gad as the voice of what Bug calls a narrator dog, sending up Gad’s role in the more earnest A Dog’s Purpose (2017). But the screenplay by Dan Perrault (who has written the parody series Players, about gaming, and American Vandal, sending up true crime series) struggles to overcome the one-note joke of dogs sounding like foul-mouthed humans.

The film has its entertaining, off-the-wall comic moments, though. Reggie has sex with a garden gnome, whom he later comes to think is his son. If you’re not expecting much more than that, Strays is efficient enough. And there is a payoff when the crew arrives back at Doug’s. Let’s just say the song Wrecking Ball is on the soundtrack there for a reason.

★★★☆☆

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