Saturday 8 October 2016

Movie Review: Trading Places (1983)

A social comedy set in the world of business, Trading Places is an early vehicle for Eddie Murphy's burgeoning talents and an entertaining romp through the lineage versus social environment debate.

In Philadelphia, filthy rich and racist brothers Randolph and Mortimer Duke (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche) own a large commodities trading firm. To settle a bet about nature versus nurture, they decide to ruin the life of their firm's haughty general manager Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) while elevating streetwise bum Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) into his role. Valentine is bailed out of jail, installed in Winthorpe's swanky apartment, scrubbed down, provided with the services of butler Coleman (Denholm Elliott), and given free reign to run the firm.

Meanwhile, Winthorpe is framed for petty theft and drug trafficking, locked out of his apartment and has his accounts frozen. His fiancée Penelope (Kristin Holby) dumps him and he falls in with prostitute Ophelia (Jamie Lee Curtis), the only person to believe his story. Billy Ray thrives in his new environment while a desperate Winthorpe starts contemplating a life of crime. But once the two men learn of the Duke brothers' chicanery, they join forces and plot to turn the tables.

Directed by John Landis as a loose modernization of Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper, Trading Places followed 48 Hrs. to help launch Eddie Murphy into superstardom. The film enjoys plenty of laughs, foul language and a deep cast, while the Duke brothers enliven the villainy meter and present a boo-worthy representation of the worst that the 1 percent have to offer.

Murphy lets loose and dominates the film, easily upstaging the top-billed Aykroyd. The character of Billy Ray Valentine may be altogether implausible as a rough diamond too easy to polish from street bum to corporate suit, but Murphy makes the most of it, his motormouth and quick-witted presence overcoming any character gaps.

Trading Places is at its best in the scenes catapulting Billy Ray from a prison cell to the corner office, while Winthorpe is simultaneously drop-kicked from a cushy upper crust life to a prostitute's derelict apartment. The Dukes play the role of hidden puppet masters and dramatically change two unsuspecting lives, creating plenty of room for comedy. Billy Ray can't hide his instincts to steal property from his own new palatial home, while Winthorpe's downfall starts with a petty theft set-up at the stuffiest of men's clubs. As Winthorpe nears bottom, Ophelia offers hope that among the downtrodden, there is more and better humanity than within the ranks of back-stabbing crooks in suits.

The final third of the film gets away from Landis and drifts off-topic, leaving the social aspects dangling in search of more adolescent laughs. While the wild train ride featuring Winthorpe, Billy Ray and dirty tricks operative Clarence Beeks (Paul Gleason) is fun, it also has little to do with the premise. And Landis is caught with a climax on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange that may be technically feasible but proves beyond the director's capabilities to explain. Landis settles for not bothering, and is satisfied with a rush to retribution.

Despite moments of sloppiness Trading Places is edgy fun, a glossy rags to riches meets riches to rags laugh fest given extra spark by an emerging comic star.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, it's a little sloppy, but it's a lot of fun. The ending relies on us being willing to accept a great deal of movie-style goofiness, but ultimately, it's all in good fun, right?

    Hard to dislike it, so I don't bother trying to do anything but enjoy it.


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