Movie #54: Trading Places (1983)


Take two complete strangers, make one of them rich the other poor… just watch the fun while they’re… TRADING PLACES.


Dan Aykroyd

Eddie Murphy

Ralph Bellamy

Don Ameche

Denholm Elliott

Jamie Lee Curtis

Randolph and Mortimer Duke (Bellamy and Ameche) are two successful, rich commodities brokers who propose a nature vs. environment experiment involving Winthorpe (Aykroyd), a young executive at their company, and Billy Ray Valentine (Murphy), a street hustler.  Winthorpe is stripped of his job, thrown in jail, and loses his status and reputation within his social circles.  Valentine is cleaned up and given Winthorpe’s job, house, and life.

Valentine’s street smarts and adaptability help him acclimate to his new environment.  Winthorpe, however, is only able to survive because he is befriended by Ophelia (Curtis), who helps him in exchanged for financial compensation once he is restored to his previous life.  Each man is changed when his circumstances changes, but once the two realize that this is only an experiment by the Duke brothers, they seek their revenge in a plot twist to end the film and puts everybody in their place.

This film for me was a bit of a mixed bag.  I understand the humorous elements, and Aykroyd and Murphy have great comedic chemistry. However, the language bothered me, and at times this  film seemed to kind of drag on.  The language is more just a personal preference thing for me, so take that as it is.

Two things stand out more than anything in this movie: the script and the acting.

It’s been said that this story is more or less a re-telling of Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper.  It’s done in a way that was both modern for the time, and allowed for comedic chemistry between the actors, which fit the forte of many that were involved.

The actors in this movie really bring the script to life.  I found myself rolling my eyes at the arrogance, prejudice, and overall snootiness of Aykroyd’s Winthorpe, but that’s exactly what can be expected.  The man had a silver spoon in his mouth from birth, and Aykroyd really brings that to life.  Having seen a number of movies he’s been in, this one was a bit of a stretch, and Aykroyd does a good job at making you hate, then love this character.

This is one of the few films where Murphy’s style of comedic acting really shines.  He’s obnoxious, yes, but not to the point where you just want to destroy something or put him in a choke hold.  This was during his stint on Saturday Night Live (along with a number of his cast mates), and really during the prime of his career.  Aside from say Dreamgirls (I assume he was good since he was nominated for an Oscar), Eddie Murphy hasn’t had a really good movie in about 20 years, at least for me.

While the two leads provide strong performances, the supporting cast cannot be overlooked.  Bellamy and Ameche both do great at millionaire brothers that you just want to see them get their come-upends.  Jamie Lee Curtis is intelligent and charming, and Denholm Elliot does a great job as Winthorpe’s butler Coleman.  Curtis and Elliot both received recognition at the British Academy Film Awards for their roles in the film.

Trading Places is funny, well-acted and thought-provoking look at the nature vs. nurture arguments in the context of money and socio-economic elements.  I probably won’t watch this one again, as for me it had just enough content that I didn’t like, but I’m still glad to have watched it,

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars.


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