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‘Strays’ brings some (very) raunchy laughs to the dog days of summer

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — Universal’s “Strays” is basically the exact opposite of the studio’s big summer hit “Oppenheimer” – namely, short, stupid and (fitfully) kind of fun. Seeking to bring some much-needed laughs to the dog days of summer, it’s a very raunchy riff on what’s amusing about our canine pals, and a somewhat smarter dive into dog-movie conventions and cliches.

Indeed, with a cross-country trek built into the premise, “Strays” owes perhaps its biggest debt to the celebrity-voiced 1993 adventure “Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey,” with a touch of every other movie on Disney+ that involves a savvy stray teaching a less-worldly pooch (or Aristocat) the art of survival.

Here, though, there’s a decidedly dark side to the story of Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell), whose horrible loser of an owner, Doug (Will Forte), purposely tries to abandon him several hours away from the home where he mistreated him, a dynamic entirely lost on the cheerful mutt.

Reggie has his eyes opened by Bug (Jamie Foxx), a streetwise stray, with a very foul mouth and a proclivity for humping inanimate objects. At first determined to teach him about life “off the leash,” they’re joined by pets Maggie (Isla Fisher) and Hunter (Randall Park) – the latter a washed-out police dog who, despite his Great Dane size, constantly wears a cone and is afraid of pretty much everything – in a mission to get back to Doug to seek retribution.

Directed by Josh Greenbaum from a script by Dan Perrault, working with producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (of “The Lego Movie” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” franchises), “Strays” doesn’t shy away from every form of dog-related vulgarity imaginable, which, as one might expect, turns out to be a hit-miss proposition.

While that yields a lot of arid stretches, those who give in to the gleeful crudeness of it all will be rewarded with some funny moments courtesy of the near-unrelenting dog’s-eye view, although fair warning, most of the best stuff is in the red-band trailer.

By going as hard as it does, the movie sacrifices (or at least should) some of the younger kids that might otherwise find the silliness and excretory-humor enticing. At the same time, for anyone reluctantly dragged to see something like “A Dog’s Purpose,” the satire should strike a chord simply by flashing that entire genre an extended middle toe.

“Strays” hardly breaks any new ground, but that’s sort of the whole point. For anyone unpleasantly surprised by what a dog has done to a living room or found digging around in the backyard, the appeal lies largely in the recognition that comes from seeing, unfettered by clean-up concerns, what disgusting thing it’s going to unearth next.

“Strays” premieres August 18 in US theaters. It’s rated R.

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