Strays (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Jan 03, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Strays (Blu-ray Review)


Josh Greenbaum

Release Date(s)

2023 (October 10, 2023)


Lord Miller Productions/Picturestart/Rabbit Hole Productions (Universal Pictures)
  • Film/Program Grade: D
  • Video Grade: A
  • Audio Grade: A-
  • Extras Grade: B+

Strays (Blu-ray)

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Strays turns the typical dog movie upside down with an R-rated tale of talking canines who befriend one another on a road trip. The dogs are wonderful and the best thing about this slight attempt at a comedy which relies on profanity in the absence wit.

Little border terrier Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell) loves his owner, Doug (Will Forte), a slovenly ne’er-do-well who regards the dog as a constant annoyance. Doug repeatedly drives far from home, tosses a ball as far as he can, and speeds away, hoping to be rid of Reggie forever. But the dog, loving what he regards as a game, always fetches and returns the ball.

Determined to rid himself of the adoring canine forever, Doug drives hours into the city and once again abandons him. This time his effort is fruitful. Bewildered, Reggie settles down for the night in an alley. In the morning, foul-mouthed Boston terrier stray Bug (Jamie Foxx) wanders by and advises Reggie that he’s now a stray, too.

In their travels around the city, the homeless pals encounter two other unhappy dogs. Australian shepherd Maggie (Isla Fisher) is upset that her influencer owner has bought a new puppy and forced her to a secondary household role. Great Dane Hunter (Randall Park) is a former police dog who resents having been kicked off the force and sold as an emotional support animal for hospice patents.

Reggie’s three new friends agree to help Reggie make his way back to Doug. Their quest includes dashing through a carnival, fending off an attacking eagle, consuming a field of hallucinogenic mushrooms, and running amok when a fireworks display spooks them.

Kudos to the animals and their trainers. The four canine stars are wonderful performers, great fun to watch, and absolutely endearing. If only they had been used in a better film... Director Josh Greenbaum and screenwriter Dan Perrault are co-conspirators on this mess of a movie, which looks like a prank by middle-school boys who think foul language is the ultimate laugh-inducer. It’s one thing to provide a new spin on a Hollywood genre but quite another to do it without an iota of cleverness. Strays is offensive, unfunny, and essentially a one-joke film.

Rather than relying on CGI dogs, Greenbaum wisely assembled a cast of canine actors and used CGI only to manipulate their mouths to make them appear to be speaking. Though the dogs are great, this is hardly a movie for dog lovers, since it portrays them as raunchy creatures that thrive on scatological jokes and use the “F” word in all its forms as a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, and/or expletive in nearly every sentence.

Forte, the primary human actor, plays the mean-spirited, even cruel slacker Doug exactly as scripted. Slopping around his dirty and disorderly digs in sweat pants and plaid shirt, unshaven and unemployed, smoking a bong, Doug keeps Reggie solely out of spite, treats him like an inconvenience, and calls him by insulting epithets rather than by his real name. We naturally root for Doug to get his comeuppance and ultimately he does, in a jaw-droppingly tasteless scene when Reggie’s friends succeed in getting him home.

Strays is clearly geared for adults. Obscenities emerge from the dogs’ mouths at nearly every other word and gags revolve around the size of each canine’s genitals and how much fun it is to hump inanimate objects. The mushroom sequence has a dark payoff that inspires gasps rather than laughs. Not only is the film dopey, it’s a dreadful turkey.

Strays was captured by director of photography Tim Orr digitally with Sony CineAlta Venice cameras and Zeiss Supreme Prime lenses, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The picture is sharp, with night scenes nicely detailed. Black levels are deep and rich. The color palette is broad, with a wide range of bright lights and bold hues in the carnival sequence. Subjective point-of-view is used frequently to show what the dogs are seeing. Many of the shots are taken from low angles or at the dogs’ eye level. Textures come across quite well and details such as sidewalks, high billowing grass, Doug’s ramshackle house, trees, mushrooms, and a girl scout uniform are well delineated.

Soundtrack options include English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio as well as Spanish and French, also in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. A DVS (descriptive video service) track is another option. Subtitle options include English SDH, Spanish, and French. The dialogue for the dogs is clear and distinct, with the voice actors giving them distinctive styles. For a film starring dogs, barking is at a minimum. Sound effects include fireworks, pick-up truck engine, dog toenails on pavement, boxes tumbling, glass breaking, and dogs shaking water off their coats. Rap music dominates the soundtrack and includes songs by Snoop Dogg, Miley Cyrus, Fergie, Stephen Day, and Ice Cube.

The “Unleashed Edition” of Strays contains both Blu-ray and DVD discs as well as a Digital Code on a paper insert. Bonus materials include the following:

  • Audio Commentary with Josh Greenbaum and Dan Perrault
  • Talk Like a Dog (7:10)
  • The Ultimate Treat: Making Strays (6:34)
  • Poop, Booms, and Shrooms (6:41)
  • Will Forte: Stray Actor (5:57)
  • Training to Be Stray (5:30)
  • A New Best Friend (3:36)

Commentary – Director Josh Greenbaum and screenwriter Dan Perrault discuss the film and are obviously still tickled by its push-the-envelope-of-good-taste content. Will Forte’s Doug is an “asshole who you enjoy watching.” Greenbaum always wanted to use real dogs rather go the full-CGI route and acknowledges the hard, dedicated work of the many dog trainers on set. CGI was used to make the dogs’ mouths move as if they were actually speaking. The dogs’ trainers were often on set and wore blue spandex so they could be digitally “erased” from the final film. Often, the voice actors would watch footage of the dogs so they could match their performance to how the dogs acted. The complexities of blending live action with CGI are discussed. Some shots, such as the dogs walking on railroad tracks, were inspired by the film Stand By Me.

Talk Like a Dog – Actors Will Ferrell, Jamie Foxx, Isla Fisher, and Randall Park and director Josh Greenbaum speak about matching human voices to the dogs. Actors are seen in the studio, recording dialogue.

The Ultimate Treat: Making Strays – Writer/producer Dan Perrault notes that he’s a “fan of finding twisted versions of popular sub-genres and trends,” inspiring him to subvert the tropes of the dog movie. Director Greenbaum believes the film has heart and explains how the voice actors gave the dogs distinct personalities.

Poop, Booms, and Shrooms – The cast and director speak about the scene in which the dogs eat psychedelic mushrooms and creating fake poop and slathering it on a human. The county fair scene couldn’t have real fireworks or the dogs would panic, so bright lights were used to cast intermittent illumination on the set and CGI fireworks and sound effects were added later.

Will Forte: Stray Actor – Forte discusses being cast as members of the cast and crew comically insult him in brief sound bites. Director Josh Greenbaum shot different levels of Forte’s horribleness so Doug wouldn’t come off too nice or too evil. Forte improvised in many scenes, going for the maximum laugh.

Training to Be Stray – The animal trainers had to work with puppies and rescue dogs that had never worked in movies before. Trainers explain how the dogs were taught to perform for specific scenes. For instance, chicken patties were hidden in the “psychedelic mushrooms”, so the dogs happily gobbled them up. The dog playing Maggie was the only Hollywood veteran. She had been in previous pictures and took direction perfectly.

A New Best Friend – Multiple dogs were needed for each principal dog. When he heard that the principal dog playing Reggie had no home, director Josh Greenbaum adopted him. Scenes of the dog with his twin daughters are shown. The family decided his name would be Reggie, just as in the film.

Strays is one of the worst films I’ve seen this year. I was intrigued by its opening moments, but it quickly devolves into foul language and lowbrow, forced gags that depend on delving headlong into topics that are intended to shock but only alienate the viewer. It’s written and directed lazily by a duo who think putting filthy language into dogs’ mouths is hysterically funny. It’s not.

- Dennis Seuling