The Steelbook version of Strays has one of the more misleading packages of any movie in recent memory. If you pass it in your local video store, you’ll see an aggressively gaunt Vin Diesel glowering at you in black and white against a backdrop of New York City. The title of the movie is printed in stark, menacing, capital red letters. It’s a cover fit for any gritty urban crime drama. Then, of course, there’s the metal case, which defines this incarnation as the Steelbook version. It’s a tough package for a tough movie. It’s Vin Diesel-Tough. Too bad the movie inside is a romantic comedy.
Once the initial shock wears off and you readjust your expectations, you may find that Strays is thoroughly watchable, especially as a study of Vin Diesel’s early work. Strays marks Diesel’s directional and screenwriting debut. It’s also his first major role in a film. Based on his own life experiences growing up in New York City, Strays revolves around Rick (Vin Diesel), a 25-year-old drug dealer, looking to make a change in his life from the nightly hunt for one-night-stands to something long-term and meaningful. He meets Heather (Suzanne Lanza) who serves as the wholesome escape Rick is longing for, but every time he makes progress into her world, he’s continually pulled back into his old habits by his macho and immature friends.
This is not brilliant filmmaking. For every shot that’s adequate, there are two that are a mild challenge to watch. The camera continually dips, cutting off heads. Actors are constantly standing out of frame. And a number of scenes are completely superfluous. The writing is also on the heavy-handed side. When the lines come across naturally, those scenes seem adlibbed for comedy’s sake. On the other hand, there are worse criticisms to have and Strays doesn’t suffer from anything fatal.
Despite the numerous rough patches, Strays has many charms that will keep viewers engaged. For one, the characters are loveable and despicable at the same time. Young people in the dating world will instantly recognize themselves in this film during the scenes where Rick and his friends try to bring home some tail. The comedic moments are also genuinely funny as the guys toss around bawdy jokes or playfully insult each other as guys naturally do. Lastly, the actors do an admirable job with the material, especially during the frequent long takes.
Diesel’s performance especially stands out. It’s nowhere close to his more recent role in Find Me Guilty, but it does allow him to flex his range a bit. His acting is still well within the realm of the beefy tough guy, but Diesel pushes the envelope in unexpected ways. In one of the more touching scenes, he even sings a bit from The Wizard of Oz. For Vin Diesel fans, that alone may be worth the price of admission.
For being a limited edition release, the Steelbook version is surprisingly thin on extras. There isn’t even an insert inside the case; just the DVD. Special features on the DVD include the Strays trailer and “making of” featurette.