Buried not too deeply in the backyard of Strays, a live-action foul-mouthed doggie tale, is a metaphor about bad relationships, co-dependency and how to be your own master.
Starring Will Forte as lousy pet owner Doug, the comedy quickly centers around Reggie (a Border Terrier voiced by Will Ferrell) and Boston Terrier Bug (Jamie Foxx), along with a collective of stray dogs including Australian Shepherd Maggie (Isla Fisher) and Great Dane Hunter (Randall Park), cunningly acting out a Stand By Me-type road trip with CGI mouthing their words.
And this is why Strays is an adult comedy with a PG rating. Like Seth Rogen’s Sausage Party, there’s lots of creative cursing, animated sex and even random drug use (a psychedelics scene is now de rigueur in raunchy comedies).
But if you’re an adult, it’s a hoot, served up by producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and directed by Josh Greenbaum from a script by Dan Perrault to new, unexplored levels of raunch.
Reggie is haplessly devoted to Doug, a feckless stoner who tries repeatedly to dump his rather scruffy Terrier into the wilds by throwing an old tennis ball then climbing back in his pickup and scramming. It doesn’t work, because Reggie is such a sweet, trusting doggie soul, he always finds his way back, happy that he’s played this “game” with Doug.
When his owner dumps him in an alley of some urban jungle, though, Reggie must figure out his next move. He’s taken under the wing of Bug, who has his own pet owner back story, but is now happily a stray, which for him spells independence and the ability to hump every abandoned sofa in the city. (There is lots of humping here: garden gnomes, furniture, and other dogs of course.)P
Bug schools Reggie in the daily activities of hunting up scraps of food, peeing on every object you want to claim ownership of (lampposts are prized, obviously), and even peeing on each other in an awkward, but somehow moving, display of canine friendship.
Strays bothers to create fun characters, and that’s what lifts it above some raunchy cartoons and even most raunchy comedies these days. We want Reggie to figure out that Doug is no good, and should have his man parts removed, and we want Maggie and Hunter to get it on, and we want Bug to continue to feel all right in his world.
Eventually, the strays come to realize that not all humans are horrible, like Doug, and that there is a way to co-exist with the those bipedal beings who walk around picking up their dog poop in plastic bags.
If you must see one foul-mouthed (it really is) live-action dog comedy this year, check it out. Maybe even bring your favorite dog owner.
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Strays, from Warner Bros. Pictures, is now showing.