Director Josh Greenbaum’s last movie — the wonderful Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar — dropped unceremoniously on premium VOD back in early 2021, when studios were hardly putting anything in theaters amid a surging pandemic. It ended up being among the best movies of that year, a throwback to absurdist 1990s comedies like Dumb and Dumber and the Austin Powers franchise. So if any filmmaker deserves the chance at an R-rated, theatrically released studio comedy (an increasing rarity these days), Greenbaum should be one of the first in line. 

And it’s clear why a studio like Universal would have so much confidence in Greenbaum’s follow-up, Strays. It has a high-concept premise that’s easy to market — adorable talking dogs saying crude things! The cast is impressive across the board, with Will Ferrell, Isla Fisher, Jamie Foxx and Randall Park voicing the canine characters and Will Forte playing the human antagonist. The problem is that all this talent has been assembled to deliver one joke, and it’s a joke that gets tiresome well before the end of its 93-minute runtime. Where Barb and Star succeeded by stretching gags into shocking and bizarre territory, Strays plays it safe at every turn. 

If you’ve seen the trailer for Strays, you’ve basically seen the entire movie. It’s pretty effective as far as trailers go and outlines the story nicely: Reggie (Ferrell) is a lovable little pup whose cheery outlook is shattered the day his deadbeat owner Doug (Forte) drives him three hours out of town and abandons him in an alleyway. Reggie, understandably feeling betrayed, teams up with a fellow stray named Bug (Foxx) and a couple other sympathetic dogs named Maggie (Fisher) and Hunter (Park) for a mission to take from Doug the thing he loves the most — his genitals. 

Reggie’s plan to castrate his former owner is one of the few genuinely amusing ideas in a movie desperate to shock. The jokes mainly stem from dogs saying naughty words or humping, peeing and shitting on random objects. If you’ve been dying to see a fully erect dog penis on the big screen, run — don’t walk — to your nearest multiplex and see Strays immediately. Look, there is nothing wrong with poop and pee jokes; some of the best comedies ever made have revolved around scatological humor. But Strays goes for the laziest version of those jokes every time. One centerpiece gag features a slow-motion montage of a bunch of dogs shitting set to Fergie’s “London Bridge.” No punchline, just … a lot of shit. 

Similarly, you might chuckle the first time you see a dog talking dirty while humping a couch. By the 10th time, you might start checking your watch. This is one of those misbegotten comedies that mistakenly believes just being vulgar is funny in and of itself without bothering to craft an actual joke around it.

Fortunately, having Ferrell and Foxx voice your leads is bound to elevate even the lamest jokes, and their vocal performances make Strays consistently watchable. Hollywood has a bad habit of casting big-name actors to voice animated characters, often to underwhelming results. Ferrell and Foxx are the rare exceptions. Ferrell is great at playing the relentlessly optimistic doofus, and Foxx is a naturally gifted comedian who can play a fast-talking wiseass better than just about anyone. 

The movie does make a couple of clever jabs at other inspirational dog stories, pointing out some of the tired tropes in movies like A Dog’s Purpose and Homeward Bound. The irony, of course, is that Strays is just as uninspired, presenting itself as an edgy alternative to those movies while having very little bite of its own.