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Farrell and Foxx as dogs hunting for laughs

You know how obscene comedies are. Hit and miss. One person’s mutiny of rhetoric is another person’s jaw-locking and existential curiosity exercise: just why is this not working for me? But all the way why was i born

I guess that’s a bit of an exaggeration. However, the nonsense-talking, garden-dwarf comedy “Strays” seems destined to crack Cinema Audience A while transforming Cinema Audience B into Nipper, the baffled, possibly silent terrier at the old RCA labels.

Yes, there is laughter in director Josh Greenbaum’s new movie (“Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar”) written by Dan Perrault (who made the fake documentary series “American Vandal”). At one point, a pack of rags of four homeless vagrants spy on a U.S. Postal Service billboard. The cascade of junkyard taunts and insults at the sight of a smiling postal worker only lasts a few seconds, but is perfectly judged and genuinely hilarious.

And you really realize it, because too much “Street” is satisfied with less. The plot is a sketchy variation of “The Incredible Journey” (1963) and “Homeward Bound” (1993, a remake of the previous Disney movie). finds his way home. The twist: He wants to go home so the extremely cruel human can bite his owner’s penis (Will Forte extorts his character when he’s not masturbating, and extorts when he does). It’s a road movie and an epic of revenge, with the intimate element of teaching Reggie that the only dog/human relationship he’s ever known is truly toxic.

Reggie’s friends: Boston Terrier Bug (Jamie Foxx); Australian shepherd Maggie (Isla Fisher); and the mild-mannered Great Dane, Hunter (Randall Park), who has escaped from the police academy and is a therapy pet. There is a rather sweetly developed sexual tension between Hunter and Maggie. The voice cast clearly developed the script in each recording session, of course they’re there to do it. (Park’s play but unconvincing attempt at group howl: a good thing.)

So what’s missing? The usual shortages in modern screen comedy: visual finesse and some wit to accompany the nasty stuff. Against the “streets” little things begin to rise. Why should we consider the eagle attack on the bug as a jump scare instead of a joke of seeing it? Dennis Quaid cameo: Huh? What? The brutal deployment of F-bombs? Coming out of the digitally powered mouths of dogs is theoretically entertaining. But when the hustle and bustle isn’t clicked, the tension sets in.

I’ll end this Nipper review with sample titles from popular comedies that I don’t particularly like: “The Hangover”; “Ted”; “Cocaine Bear”; That’s enough for one last paragraph. Where’s the “Sausage Party” when you need it? No matter how erratic, this experiment in the unlikely all-round offense gone There. He does “Strays” every now and then. But mostly it is neither here nor there.

“The Fugitives” — 2 stars (out of 4)

MPA rating: R (for common language, vulgar and sexual content, and drug use)

Working time: 1:33

How to watch: In theaters August 17.

Michael Phillips is a Tribune critic.

mjphillips@chicagotribune.com

twitter @phillipstribune



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