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Movie Review: 'The Stray'

Pup-centric family adventure falls flat.

The Stray is one ridiculously terrible movie. This family adventure about a family that takes in a stray dog that they name Pluto opens with a nearly deadly lightning strike and only gets weirder and more bizarrely bad from there. The film purports to be a true story written and directed by Mitch Davis about his own family dog. However, there doesn’t appear to be any truth that was actually captured in this silly, unrealistic screenplay filled with characters who are like aliens enacting human emotions.

The Stray stars Michael Cassidy as Mitch Davis, a wannabe screenwriter who works as a script assistant at a Hollywood studio. Mitch’s long hours of reading and noting other people’s screenplays has distanced him from his family to the point where his wife, Michelle (Sarah Lancaster) is worried that they won’t be able to keep their family together. An incident where their two-year-old daughter wanders off while Mitch is reading scripts is the final straw leading them to leave Los Angeles for Colorado.

In Colorado, Mitch is supposed to be writing screenplays but the family's recently acquired stray dog Pluto gets much of his attention. Mitch and Pluto run together, wrestle and generally bond while the dog seems intent on bringing Mitch and his son Christian closer together. When father and son finally agree to spend time together on a hiking trip, it’s a natural that Pluto would join them, but when tragedy strikes, well, you will have to see for yourself.

Where do I begin to tell you about the infinite horrors of The Stray? For one, Sarah Lancaster is a professional actress. She was on the television series Chuck and she was really good. What is she doing here? She’s, at the very least, the least stilted performer in the movie. Sadly, she is a supporting player and spends most of her scenes playing a stereotypically nagging wife. Considering the charisma-free talents of co-star Michael Cassidy, you will be thinking a lot about Lancaster’s all too brief performance.

Michael Cassidy’s nonchalant performance could not be pitched worse than it is. Nothing seems to faze him. He’s like an alien pretending to be a human. At one point his son asks him to teach him to throw a baseball and Cassidy’s response is akin to a man who doesn’t know what a baseball is. He’s remarkably irresponsible as he allows his two-year-old to wander off into traffic at one point while he’s talking on the phone delivering dialogue that is apparently intended to be funny; he’s talking about a movie and states that he doesn’t believe people want to see Julia Roberts play a prostitute.

Oh, did I mention that The Stray is a period piece set in the late 80s and early 90s? No? Well, the film barely mentions it either. It’s not hard to figure it out but the clunky Julia Roberts gag is about the closest the film comes to clarity until more than 30 minutes into the movie when we are told it’s 1991 and the family has moved to Colorado from California. There doesn’t appear to be any truly terrible anachronisms but the film is remarkably bad at communicating time, place, and even a pseudo form of reality.

The film opens with several characters being struck by lightning while camping in the woods. The clumsiness of the payoff to that later in the film is staggering. Take the score for instance which fails in every way imaginable to communicate the harrowing situation. The score sounds like a very special episode of Fuller House even as it seems that one or more of the main characters, including the hero dog, has died.

For no reason whatsoever, after these characters are all hit by lightning, the movie decides to add a hungry bear to the mix, because dead characters and permanently traumatized children apparently isn’t dramatic enough for writer-director Mitch Davis who claims that this is based on his true former Hollywood tail. The Stray is Davis writing what he claims is a deeply personal story. It comes off, however, like a cloying, sub-Hallmark Channel TV movie starring poor imitations of actual human beings. 

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Movie Review: 'The Stray'
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