When my kids were little, they got a lot of mileage out of the “Buddies” series, which were direct-to-video sequels to the low-wattage family film “Air Bud” about a dog that plays basketball.
After repeat viewings in my home I became very familiar with the “Buddies,” who were Air Bud’s puppies, as all of their adventures featured real dogs who had been animated to make it look like they were talking thanks to an assist from voice actors. Yes, it’s as painful as it sounds.
I had lots of “Buddies” flashbacks while watching “Strays,” a new comedy that takes a hard-R-rating approach to the talking dog formula by filling our pups’ mouths with dirty words and raunchy sex jokes.
The novelty of pairing bawdy humor with cute canines is fairly amusing for about the first 30 minutes of “Strays,” and it does make some sense because if dogs could talk, poop and humping would fall directly into their primary areas of expertise. But the whole shtick starts to get a little tedious when it becomes clear that this movie isn’t going to learn any new tricks.
The story focuses on Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell) an adorable and painfully naïve little mutt who is deeply loyal to his owner Doug (Will Forte), who is quite possibly the worst human in existence.
Doug is an unemployed dirt-bag who only became Reggie’s owner just to spite an ex during a breakup. Doug goes from casually abusing Reggie to outright attempts at abandonment which Reggie cheerily thwarts by continually finding his way home.
Doug finally drives several hours away and drops Reggie cold in the heart of the big city. It is there that Reggie meets Bug (voiced by Jamie Foxx) a slightly crazed pug that extolls the virtues of being a stray.
Bug takes Reggie under his wing and introduces him to his buddies at the dog park, the primped and pampered miniature Australian shepherd Maggie (voiced by Isla Fisher) and the big, loveable and slightly insecure therapy dog Hunter (Randall Park).
When the gang makes it clear to Reggie that Doug is indeed a horrible owner, Reggie vows to make the incredible journey back to Doug with the goal of removing him of his most prized appendage.
The rest of the crew joins in and “Strays” becomes your standard road-trip movie with varying degrees of hilarity encountered along the way.
Director Josh Greenbaum tries to find some space along the way for a little heart as themes of friendship bubble up from time to time. But outside of some solid observational dog humor, your enjoyment of “Strays” entirely depends on how funny you find pooches saying and doing outrageous things.
Outside of that, “Strays” doesn’t have a whole lot more to offer.
“Strays” is rated R for pervasive language, crude and sexual content and drug use.