Doug, a misfit dog abandoned by his owner, undergoes an odyssey of self-discovery after befriending a few eccentric K-9s in "Strays." Most reading this premise likely imagine a whimsical family film bursting with wholesomeness and warm sentiments.
"Strays" could not stroll further from that reality. Director Josh Greenbaum and screenwriter Dan Perrault contort their admittedly familiar premise into a raunchy, hard-R comedy that packs a ferocious bark. It's certainly a risk, and while the final product is slapdash and inconsistent, "Strays" conjures enough uproarious laughs to compensate for its shortcomings.
Readers be warned - "Strays" ranks as one of the most amoral and gleefully immature comedies in recent memory. The film dispenses one crass pratfall after another, ranging from the titular dogs getting drunk and running wild in the streets to several gross-out body humor gags. Those who grew up with the spontaneity and out-of-the-box vulgarity of Robot Chicken or Family Guy will feel at home with "Strays." This comedic style lacks consistency, although the film makes up for it through its sheer volume of jokes.
For me, this approach works more than it falters. Seeing an adorable dog troupe swear like sailors and engage in reckless activities has a built-in comedic impact. The talented voice-over cast also leaves their mark. Will Ferrell displays affable naivety as Doug, Jaime Foxx exudes his movie star magnetism as Bug and Randall Park and Isla Fisher steal several scenes playing an unlikely dog couple. Despite the voice-over confines of these roles, the ensemble develops strong chemistry with one another throughout their misadventures.
Greenbaum, the director behind 2021's underrated "Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar," is adept at drawing chaotic humor from unlikely places. He and Perrault still craft a feature that lands in the standard-issue studio comedy mold, including the usual forced emotional beats and generic plot rhythms. However, the film still radiates enough personality to mask its generic shell.
Reviewing comedies breaks down into a simplistic metric - either I laughed or I did not. Fortunately, "Strays" lands in the former category for me. It is a divisive yet spirited feature that succeeds due to its free-wheeling comedic spark.