“Strays” also challenges the very idea of dogs being man’s best friend, instead offering a look into a life of a dog who is man’s biggest enemy. There is nothing in the world that Reggie (Will Ferrell) loves more than Doug (Will Forte), his pot-smoking, deadbeat owner, who only kept Reggie after a break-up because he wanted his ex-girlfriend to be unhappy. Doug can’t stand the sight of Reggie and does everything in his power to make Reggie’s life miserable. He even tries to get rid of Reggie, continually driving him far away, throwing a tennis ball, and then driving away before Reggie can get back in the car, hoping to be done with him for good. But every time, Reggie returns.
That sounds depressing, doesn’t it? But what “Strays” does perfectly is to funnel this through the perspective of Reggie, mining an upsetting situation for dark and deliciously funny comedy. The opening sequence, narrated by Ferrell, lets us in on how much fun Reggie finds his life, completely oblivious to the disdain radiating off his owner. The scene encapsulates the innocence of dogs while simultaneously offering twisted, shocking observations on human and animal behavior. It’s the kind of thing “Strays” does brilliantly throughout the film, and if you thought the best moments of the film were all in the trailer, rest assured that it only scratches the surface of one of the most surprising movies of the year.
It’s not long before Reggie loses the game with Doug (he calls it “fetch and f***”) and finds himself abandoned in the city. It’s there he finds Bug (Jamie Foxx), a tiny pug who talks a big game. He introduces Reggie to the world of stray dogs, and offers him a new ethos on life — instead of living to please man, it’s time Reggie lives to do whatever he wants. Bug also connects Reggie with his friends Maggie (Isla Fisher), a confident sniffer dog ignored by her owner in favor of a young puppy, and Hunter (Randall Park), a sweet, sensitive, well-hung (a legitimately important plot point) dog who works in an old folks home. The four form a fast friendship, bonding over a love of eating their own poop, a hatred of fireworks, and a desire to live life on their own terms.
I can’t really overstate what a delightful surprise “Strays” is. Many comedies of late offer a non-stop flurry of jokes for the first couple of acts, before acquiescing to emotional fulfillment, leaving the laughs behind in favor of character development. While “Strays” does take a few beats to get emotional and tap into its characters’ histories, it never stops being the ridiculous, silly, and knowingly stupid movie it is. And that’s an all-too-rare, but totally wonderful thing. “Strays” is never better than when it leans into getting laughs, and it never really stops going for the jugular. For its blissful 93 minutes, it never stops being an all-out comedy.