Lost in yuck: Some funny moments aren’t enough to save ‘Strays’ from its reliance on gross humor

Theatrical releases are in the midst of their usual late-summer lull, so I’m taking this week to catch up on a couple of titles that are still in theaters, but have also made their way to streaming platforms. The journey from the theater to home video is a lot shorter these days.

The previews of Strays showed promise; it looked like it could be a fun comedy, sort of a Babe with bad words. Talking animals can be enjoyable, and there are stretches in the movie where that is indeed the case.

But there are also long stretches where the film relies upon dog shit and puke for laughs … and yours truly considers neither of those to be chuckle fuel.

Reggie (the voice of Will Ferrell) is a happy little pup who fails to see the signs that his reprehensible owner, Doug (Will Forte), hates him, even when he abandons him three hours away from their home. He stumbles upon Bug (the voice of Jamie Foxx), a plucky Boston terrier, and learns to quickly accept his “stray” status. Together, with a couple of other dogs named Hunter (the voice of Randall Park) and Maggie (the voice of Isla Fisher), they set upon a revenge journey—to Reggie’s home, where he plans to bite Doug’s dick off.

The film has a couple of winning aspects, like Reggie’s eternal optimism and Bug’s insistence that he is a badass in a little Boston terrier body. (I’m a Boston terrier owner, and this is most certainly the mentality of my Noomi.) This might be cinema’s all-time-best depiction of a Boston terrier, with its majestically sweet yet slightly tyrannous personality traits.

There are some genuinely funny moments in Strays involving telling off cats, mailmen and senior citizens. I confess to a few solids laughs here and there. But then there are the moments when it’s just plain gross. For example, there’s a sequence involving one of my favorite character actors, Brett Gelman, playing a dog-shelter visitor who gets completely covered in dog shit, and it’s supposed to be funny. It isn’t. Director Josh Greenbaum gets Brett Gelman in his cast, and he coats him in dog shit. I suppose there’s a place in the filmmaking world where Gelman covered in dog crap could be funny, but Greenbaum didn’t find it here.

The film also tries to wring laughs from dog abuse, and dog-lovers won’t find many laughs in the way Doug abuses little Reggie. Granted, Reggie gets payback, but it doesn’t make up for the uncomfortable swings at humor.

Strays isn’t a complete loss; Ferrell and Foxx make the most of their chances to voice the precocious pups, and some of the special effects are pretty good. But the over-reliance on gross stuff and its attempts to make unfunny things funny make the film unnecessary.

Strays is playing at theaters and streaming on various platforms.

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