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Movie Review: Strays is a Hilarious, Heartfelt R-rated Deadpool-esque Talking-Dog Tale

The profound, deep friendships featured in canine cinema have long made the genre a beloved classic among families – until the dogs decide to revolt against their owners and instead pledge their loyalty to other pets who also no longer feel appreciated by humans. The titular dogs in the new adventure comedy, Strays, are subverting audience expectations by banding together to carry out revenge on the people who wronged them.

The movie was penned by Peabody Award-winner, Dan Perrault. The writer has long reveled in upending audience expectations by creating the mockumentary television shows American Vandal and Players.

The scribe’s screenplay for Strays, which marks his feature film writing debut, immediately captured the attention of Emmy Award-winning dJosh Greenbaum (Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar). The helmer appreciated that the narrative includes a more aggressive side of man’s best friend, while also crafting characters who embark on a realistic, relatable emotional journey.

Strays follows Reggie (Will Ferrell), a naïve Border Terrier, as he’s abandoned on the terrifying city streets by his uncaring, irresponsible owner, Doug (Will Forte). However, the relentlessly optimistic Reggie, who always overlooks Doug’s flaws, is certain that his beloved owner would never leave him on purpose.

Photo by Chuck Zlotnick/Universal Picture – © Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.

But Reggie’s beliefs change after he soon meets and befriends a fast-talking, foul-mouthed Boston Terrier named Bug (Jamie Foxx). The latter is a stray who loves his freedom and doesn’t believe that dogs should be controlled by human owners. Under Bug’s guidance, Reggie finally realizes he was in a toxic relationship with Doug, and begins to see the human for the heartless owner that he truly was.

Determined to seek revenge on Doug, Reggie, Bug and Bug’s friends – Maggie (Isla Fisher), a smart Australian Shepherd who has been sidelined by her owner’s new puppy, and Hunter (Randall Park), an anxious Great Dane who’s stressed out by his work as an emotional support animal – develop a plan to get revenge on Doug. The dogs then embark on an epic adventure to help Reggie find his way home – and make Doug pay by biting off the appendage he loves the most.

Under Greenbaum’s expert directorial adaptation of Perrault’s equally emotional and raunchy script, Strays‘ plot and character development channels it into a hilarious, heartfelt R-rated Deadpool-esque dog tale. The new buddy comedy is a subversive reinvention of the beloved live-action dog movie genre. Despite the story’s at-times lewd jokes, the main dog quartet’s determination to seek justice for all pets who have been neglected by owners like Doug build the protagonists’ emotional journey and surprisingly make them relatable.

 Strays doesn’t just thrive on Reggie and his three new friends’ over-the-top shenanigans; it also infuses them with a sense of humanity, as they develop feelings of love and loyalty to each other. Since Reggie begins his new journey as a naïve, cheerful and optimistic, the fast-talking, foul-mouthed, street-smart Bug is the perfect proponent for the new stray to advocate for his freedom.

Photo by Chuck Zlotnick/Universal Picture – © Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.

While Reggie’s journey in triumph over his neglectful former owner is initially dependent on the courage that he garners within his friendship that with Bug and their fellow strays, his success in finding redemption changes throughout the film. The writer’s exploration of the tests of die-hard friendship led the protagonist to secure a promising new sense of independence, which gives Strays its emotional edge.

The heart and depth in the script, particularly in its fully developed characters, is also reminiscent of such four-character coming-of-age comedy-dramas as Stand by Me and Now and Then. Like those classic buddy movies, friends become family – but instead of humans, the dogs in Strays learn the true meaning of life.

Ferrell gives the film’s standout voice performance, as he embraced evolution from an affectionate, innocent pet to a confident, independent hero. In the beginning of the comedy, the Emmy Award-winning actor infused his character with a sense of sincerity as she strives to achieve Doug’s affection, as he just wants to have an owner who loves him. Ferrell also adds sweetness into his performance to emphasize how his character sees the best in everything and everyone.

But that all changes once the protagonist witnesses what life is really like for his fellow strays after he’s abandoned. The Golden Globe-nominated actor added a sense of earnestness to his character as he watches the world collapse around him.

Besides its gripping emotional character and story arcs, Strays also thrives on its visuals. Reggie and his new friends uniquely speaking to each other through expert visual effects, under the guidance of VFX supervisor Charlie Iturriaga (Suicide Squad, Deadpool). Instead of sharing their inner thoughts, the dogs are shown communicating on screen in the same way as human actors.

Greenbaum’s work withe the dogs’ trainers on the animals’ blocking and the movie’s cinematographer, Tim Orr, on the camera angles and movements, is creative and engaging. The film thrives on showcasing the natural movements of, and interactions between, the dogs on set, especially when all the dogs talk to each other in the same frame.

Despite its Deadpool-eque raunchy humor, Strays is, at its core, an emotional story about friendship, love, loss and the absurdity of life. Under Greenbaum’s crafty directorial adaptation of Perrault’s screenplay, the comedy goes to unexpected – but welcomed – places in the live-action dog genre.

From its lewd jokes to its main canine characters having distinct personalities and grit as they seek justice and freedom; its strength of close-knit friendship and loyalty that are reminiscent of coming-of-age comedy-dramas as Stand by Me and Now and Then; and stellar visual effects from Iturriaga and contemplative cinematography from Orr, Strays thrives on its ability to make dogs relatable to humans – even if the seemingly lovable animals are determined on to get revenge on their former owners.

Photo by Chuck Zlotnick/Universal Picture – © Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Score: B+

Strays is now playing in theaters, courtesy of Universal Pictures.

Check out more of Karen Benardello’s articles.

Karen Benardello
Karen Benardello
As a life-long fan of films and television shows, and an endless passion for writing, Karen Benardello decided to combine the two for a career. She graduated from New York's LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic in 2008. Karen has since been working in the press in New York City, including interviewing film and television casts and crews, writing movie and television news articles and reviewing films and televisions series. Some of her highlights include attending such local events as the Tribeca Film Festival, the New York Film Festival and New York Comic-Con, as well as traveling across North America to attend such festivals as the Sundance Film Festival, SXSW and the Toronto International Film Festival. She has been a member of the Women Film Critics Circle since 2012, and the New York Film Critics Online since 2019.


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