I don’t know what’s in the water over at Universal Pictures, but I hope the executives in charge keep drinking it. The studio has been killing it in the last year with a string of awesomely eccentric movies like Violent Night, M3GAN, and Cocaine Bear. Seeing original stories is especially welcome in this era of endless sequels. Strays can now be added to the list. An R-rated talking dog movie? That’s a concept you don’t get every day.

Reggie (voiced by Will Ferrell) is a Border Terrier belonging to Doug (Will Forte), a loser who spends his days smoking weed and jerking off. Doug hates Reggie and schemes to get rid of him by abandoning the pooch in the city, several hours from home. The eternally optimistic Reggie believes they’re simply playing a game. He meets a stray Boston Terrier named Bug (Jamie Foxx) who helps him see the truth. Hurt by the realization, Reggie announces an intention to find his way home, where he will bite Doug’s penis off. Bug helps him make the trek, as do two new friends – an Australian Shepherd called Maggie (Isla Fisher) and a Great Dane known as Hunter (Randall Park).

Strays is admittedly a one-joke picture, yet that joke is really, really funny. The movie is packed with gags about typical dog behavior like sniffing butts, humping objects, and peeing on stuff. Such humor could get old quickly, except that writer Dan Perrault and director Josh Greenbaum (Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar) invent uproarious sequences built around those subjects.

For example, the film’s best scene finds our canine heroes locked up with a bunch of other dogs in an animal control cell. Two plans to escape are tried. One involves getting Hunter aroused, the other involves defecating. Further specificity is not needed here, but know that I laughed so hard I could barely breathe. Instead of merely throwing out edgy or gross content for its own sake, the sexual/scatological material is used imaginatively, with a core of truth. Dogs do hump and lick their own privates, etc. Why not have fun with it?

Not every bit is R-rated. A short scene involving an electric dog fence and the befuddled animal contained in a yard by it is similarly hilarious, as is a detour in which Reggie, Bug, and friends eat mushrooms in a forest and start hallucinating. A surprising undercurrent of sweetness exists below all this material. Strays takes the friendship between the characters seriously. Bug’s backstory, when revealed, is quite emotional, too. Having a softer side emerge intermittently keeps the movie’s outrageous elements from seeming gratuitous.

Visual effects used to make the dogs talk are convincing, and Will Ferrell’s cheery delivery of absurd lines is one of the picture’s greatest pleasures. Obviously, the story is thin. It’s little more than an excuse to have dogs spew profanity and engage in raunchy hijinks. I didn’t remotely care because I was too busy laughing.

out of four

Strays is rated R for pervasive language, crude and sexual content, and drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.