Strays movie review & film summary (2023)

Director Josh Greenbaum has shown a flair for out-there comedy with a sweetness at its core in the delightfully bizarre “Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar” (2021). He achieves a similar balance with raunchier material in “Strays.” Besides featuring a ton of profanity, the screenplay from Dan Perrault includes plenty of poop and pee jokes (not all of which are entirely puerile), vigorous humping, and some wilderness mayhem that some may find shocking. But the film also explores the importance of identifying and escaping toxic relationships, achieving a sense of self-worth, and basking in the support of deep and unexpected friendships.

I may have teared up a few times. Like I said at the start, a soft touch. Your mileage may vary on this canine road trip.

“Strays” begins on an upbeat note with narration from Ferrell as Reggie, an adorably scruffy Border terrier who’s clueless to the fact that his miserable, abusive owner (Will Forte) hates him and keeps trying to abandon him. “Today is going to be the best day ever!” he intones in a sunny manner reminiscent of Margot Robbie’s optimism at the start of “Barbie.” And totally coincidentally, “Strays” shares a similar structure to Greta Gerwig’s mega-blockbuster: Idealistic character leaves home, goes to the “real world,” makes friends, and learns hard truths before returning to fix things with the newfound knowledge. Only in this case, the protagonist’s purpose is literally to bite off his owner’s penis, a more violent form of eviscerating the patriarchy than Barbie ever could imagine. Ferrell is essentially doing a version of his character in “Elf” here, mixing wide-eyed enthusiasm with deadpan observations and bringing his signature sincerity to a silly role. As always, he’s a hoot.

After his owner dumps him in a faraway city, Reggie gets help in his quest from the trash-talking Bug, who insists he wants to be a stray and navigates the world with the swagger of a little dog who thinks he’s big. Foxx has fantastic energy here, savoring the musicality of his character’s every profane tirade. Along for the trip are the Australian shepherd Maggie (Isla Fisher), a gifted sniffer, and a Great Dane named Hunter (Randall Park), a former police K-9 who now works as a therapy dog for the elderly.