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Trading Places
2 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
John Landis

Written By:
Herschel Weingrod, Timothy Harris

Cast:
Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Ralph Bellamy, Don Ameche, Denholm Elliott, Paul Gleason, James Belushi, Al Franken, Tom Davis, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Cobbs, Stephen Stucker

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Trading Places (1983)
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Movie Review by Jarrod
January 4th, 2008

'Trading Places' is a comedy underpinned by a strong story and interesting characters, not to mention the fact it is very funny, and has a lot to say about human nature. In ways, it is inspired, or at least, its underlying premise is inspired, by The Prince and the Pauper (or something similar), Mark Twain's tale of role reversal, a man becoming poor, and a poor man becoming rich, and what this means to both of them, to be dumped into worlds they are completely unfamiliar with, and to encounter an existence they previously looked upon either with distaste or wonder, in the case of the poor man, who may discover that being rich is not all it is cracked up to be. This is what happens to Louis Winthorpe III (Aykroyd) and Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy), at the whim of two callous billionaires, Randolph and Mortimer Duke (Bellamy, Ameche). It is a social experiment for Randolph, who believes more in nurture than nature, and bets a dollar that Valentine could be as effective and faithful an employee as Winthorpe if given the chance. And Winthorpe woul d be reduced to a common thief. It involves, of course, ruining Winthorpe's life, taking everything from him, including his home and fiancee, leaving him penniless and alone on the streets of New York. Valentine is a street hustler; he bumps into Winthorpe outside a posh private club, and Winthorpe falsely accuses him of trying to steal his briefcase. Valentine is given what the Dukes have taken from Winthorpe.

Meanwhile, Winthorpe ends up moving in with a kind-hearted prostitute named Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis), and Valentine proves to be honest and have more integrity than the Dukes expect; he overhears them discussing their wager, and informs Winthorpe, and he also uncovers a commodities scam they are planning, which would see them cornering the market on frozen orange juice, based on the contents of a crop report they have a special associate steal from the government. Winthorpe and Valentine get a very satisfying revenge, using the Dukes' owm crooked tactics against them. Winthorpe and Valentine are two great comic inventions, and are played to perfection by Murphy and Aykroyd. They both have little quirks and eccentricities that make them appealing; Winthorpe is comically uptight, a preppy , elitist snob, Valentine is a clever liar and con artist, but abandons those talents when he starts working for the Dukes, when they might have served him well. The racial component is not overlooked, but is not given excessive attention.

And it is brilliant casting to have veteran actors Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy as the Dukes, so wealthy they can make anything happen. None of the supporting roles are wasted. Curtis is great, in her first major post-Halloween role, a warm-up to the zaniness of A Fish Called Wanda. Denholm Elliott is marvelous as Winthorpe's loyal butler, Coleman. And Paul Gleason as Clarence Beeks, the man hired by the Dukes to snatch the crop report for them, who is hilariously rude to just about everyone. The climax involves Winthorpe, Valentine, Ophelia, and Coleman chasing after Beeks on a train during a New Year's Eve party, where a horny (and presumably gay) gorilla sits in a cage awaiting transport, where Jim Belushi runs around drunk and overly friendly in a gorilla outfit, where Aykroyd dons blackface and Murphy pretends to be an African exchange student who cannot quite get English phrases just right.

All of this just to switch out Beeks's suitcase with a different one, to screw over the Dukes, but then a regular scene of this nature would not have been very interesting. Director John Landis did this the same year Michael Jackson's Thriller video was released, and two years after An American Werewolf in London. He would work with Murphy again in Coming to America, and in Beverly Hills Cop III. And he worked with Aykroyd on The Blues Brothers, and Spies Like Us. It is some of the best stuff Aykroyd or Murphy has ever produced.

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